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In the great majority of cases, your research will deal with federal or state law; however, there may be times when you need to research the law of some city or town ("municipal corporations"). Municipal corporations are creatures of state law and possess only those powers granted by the state legislature. Thus, you may want to consult the state constitutional and statutory provisions dealing with cities, towns, villages, or whatever they may be called in your state. SEE: Any Pathfinders on STATUTES, and on STATE STATUTES in particular.
State law regulates the manner in which a municipal corporation may come into existence, how it will operate, what its powers might be, and how it might go out of existence. Within the framework of state law, the municipal corporation normally adopts a charter, a document somewhat like a state constitution. For example, a person doing research in the municipal law of Indianapolis might wish to consult the Indianapolis City Charter.
A municipal corporation will normally have a legislative body called the city council, board of supervisors, or some similar name. Following the procedures laid out in the municipal charter, this body passes ordinances which are really "laws" having force and effect within the boundaries of the municipal corporation. Ordinances are legislative enactments similar to the acts of a state legislature or the U.S. Congress.
For larger cities, ordinances are sometimes published in slip form (each ordinance in a separate pamphlet), in official journals (in a format roughly akin to that of the Federal Register), or in bound volumes (similar to state and federal "session law" volumes). These materials publish ordinances chronologically, one ordinance after another, and are not arranged by subject (as, contrariwise, a code would be. See below.).
A municipal code is very much like a state or federal code of laws. It is a compilation of all municipal ordinances in force at the time of publication, regardless of the year in which the ordinances were passed. Thus, if a 1912 ordinance is still in force, it would be included in the current municipal code, just like an ordinance passed this year. Municipal codes are usually organized and published in some subject arrangement, with ordinances on similar subjects being grouped together.
Most municipal codes do not provide references to cases ("annotations") that apply and interpret city charters and ordinances. For cases that deal with charters and ordinances, see below under "Interpretation and Application in the Courts".
If a researcher did not want to locate the current municipal law, but instead needed to see an ordinance as originally passed by the municipal council or board of supervisors, he/she would consult the chronological publications listed above under MUNICIPAL ORDINANCES.