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Municipal law is composed of the Constitution of the United States and of the several states of the Union, the statutory laws of the Federal Government enacted by Congress, the statutes of the several states enacted by their legislatures, and the laws and ordinances of cities and towns and other subdivisions of the state.

It should be observed that municipal law, as here described, includes all the laws of a state or nation for the government of its inhabitants. While this use of the term "municipal” has the sanction of long continued usage, it is now regarded as obsolete and inapt by many law writers. A better designation would be national and state laws. Municipal law, as generally understood, refers to the laws of cities and towns. It would seem; therefore, that the terms "state" and “national” should be used to describe the laws governing the states and the nation, and that “municipal,” by reason of the origin and meaning of the word (municipium being the Law word for city) should be applied only to laws regulating the welfare of cities. But this is not so, and for this reason we are forced to employ the word "municipal” in its inclusive sense in this text. The purpose of this explanation is to have the student avoid any misunderstanding of the use of the term “municipal.”

Sources of law. Our present laws, which govern and control courts in their administration of justice, are derived from three sources. They are the common law and the constitutions and statutes of the United States and of the several states. The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land. State constitutions and all statutory laws must avoid conflict with this fundamental law of the nation.

Common law. The common law is one great source of our law, much of which is based on those customs which through judicial decisions have become embodied in the law and which are found in the reports of such decisions. Common law has been defined as “any rule of civil conduct which originated in the common wisdom and experience of society, which in time became an established custom and finally receïved judicial affirmation in the decisions of courts of last resort," as expressed in their judgments, maxims and definitions. It is therefore, those principles, usages and rules of action which have not originated in any act of a legislature.

A maxim is a principle accepted as true and acted on as a rule or guide. Judgments of courts are the opinions of courts as expressed in the decisions of judges in cases where the law has been applied in the administration of justice.

The common law is often referred to as the unwritten law to distinguish it from the statutory laws which are enacted by legislatures and because there is no record of its formal enactment. It was inherited by us from England and originally consisted only of customs which in course of time and through long usage came to have the force of laws. Judges in deciding cases, respecting which the written law contained no provision, would take into consideration what was the custom of the people with reference to the rights and the duties of the parties involved, and if justice would thereby be promoted would follow such custom in rendering their decisions. In this way certain customs finally attained the force of law.

By custom is meant an old and general usage that has attained the force of law.

The common law was introduced into this country by the earliest colonists. When the colonists secured their independence the system was retained from choice in all the states excepting Louisiana, which follows the Roman or civil law. The courts have assumed, or the legislatures have declared, the written or unwritten law of England, as it existed at the time of the Revolution in 1776, to be the common law of these United States.

Statutory laws. These are the laws enacted by the various legislatures. They are commonly designated as statutes, and are referred to as the written law. The statutory laws of Congress and the several states have not only greatly modified the common law but have in such instances superseded it. On all subjects, however, upon which there is no statutory law, the common law remains in full force.

But the statute of any particular state only controls in the state where it originated. Since each state legislature enacts its own statutory laws, it follows that the laws of different states may vary considerably upon the same questions, so that frequently a general statement of law may not be applicable in some particular state because its statutes are at variance with it.

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