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Who Makes American Laws?

Each level of government has its own lawmaking and administrative areas. Only the federal government, for example, can maintain an army, print money, issue passports, or grant patents and copyrights. In some legal areas, like securities (stocks and bonds), highways and transportation, and certain areas of criminal laws, both states and the federal government have their own bodies of laws–often complicated–that can often be contradictory.

The 50 States have exclusive power over many areas of law: insurance, motor vehicles, marriage and divorce, most criminal law, most business law, most property law, regulation of alcoholic beverages, plus licensing of many professionals from doctors and lawyers to manicurists and tree surgeons. While all states except Louisiana follow the Uniform Commercial Code for business law, states may differ significantly in other areas, such as divorce law and inheritance rules. The smaller localities make certain laws–parking regulations for example–with powers granted them by the states.

Social welfare and education programs are administered by all levels of government. The federal government administers its own programs and also provides financial aid to the states. States, in turn, give aid to their local subdivisions.

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