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Preservation Law (HIPR 6200): Legal Authority

Information and resources for the Master of Historic Preservation students

Legal Authority

Legal Authority is any published source of law that presents the legal rules, legal doctrine, or legal reasoning that may be used as the basis for legal decisions. Authority also includes the weight or degree of persuasiveness of the legal information. There are two categories of legal authority: primary or secondary. The term "source" is also used when talking about authority.  This guide will use the term source when discussing actual legal research resources.

Primary authorities are authorized statements of the law by governmental institutions. 

  • Administrative Rule - further detail the implementation of administrative regulations. 
  • Code - a compilation of enacted laws; generally arranged by subject
  • Constitution - fundamental body of principles by which a poltical body such as a nation or state governs itself
  • Court Opinion - decision of the court with reasons supporting the conclusion 
  • Court Rule - control the operation of the courts and the conduct of persons appearing before them
  • Regulation - published under the authority of a statute that further interprets the statute and operates to carry-out the statutory intent
  • Session Law - the laws enacted by a legislature at an annual or biennial session; usually published on a periodic basis during the session and then physically printed and bound upon the completion of the session; generally arranged numerically or chronologically.
  • Statute - also referred to as legislation, a positive statement of legal rules enacted by a legislature
 Jurisdiction  Session Laws and Statutory Compilations  Administrative Law

 U.S. Statutes at Large
 United States Code (USC)

 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
 Federal Register (FR)


 Georgia Laws
 Official Code of Georgia Annotated 

 Official Compilation Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia
 Georgia Government Register


 Laws of Maryland
 Maryland Annotated Code (by subject)

 Code of Maryland Regulations
 Maryland Register


 Public and Local Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan
 Michigan Compiled Laws

 Michigan Administrative Code
 Michigan Register


 Laws of Montana
 Montana Code Annotated

 Administrative Rules of Montana
 Montana Administrative Register

 New York

 Laws of New York
 McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated (by subject)

 Official Compilation of Code, Rules & Regulations of the State of New York
 New York State Register


 Laws of Pennsylvania
 Pennsylvania Consolidated States

 Pennsylvania Code
 Pennsylvania Bulletin


When used to describe the degree of persuasiveness of the legal information, authority can be futher categorized as binding or persuasive. Binding authority  (also referred to as mandatory) means that a court or other decision-maker believes the authority applies to the case before it and must be followed. Only primary authority can be binding.

Authority which is not binding is persuasive meaning that a decision-maker can, if so persuaded, follow it. 

Secondary authorities are statements about the law and explain, interpret, develop, locate, or update primary authorities. For example, treatises, law review articles, American Law Reports annotations, Restatements of the Law, and looseleaf services are types of secondary authorities. Secondary authority can never be binding only persuasive.

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