Why do official US laws and constitutional amendments have a specific style to them?

For example see these amendments:

17th Amendment to the US Constitution25th Amendment

You can also see a similar style on the official law that President Trump signed:

Pres. Trump signed law

I also can't find this similar styling of laws on Congress.gov. In fact, the website says that I the pdf version of the law is the best? But then why are the 'official' amendments and laws stylized like this? How and why did they come to be? What are the differences between these stylized laws and other ones found elsewhere (ones on Congress.gov, in the U.S.C, etc.)?

Also US laws and amendments during the 18th-19th century don't appear to be stylized like this, so when, and how did this happen? And why that specific style?


(Sorry if there's too many questions)

  • Hi Dan -- thanks for posting to History Hub!

    Your images are depicting original, signed copies of enrolled bills. These are also sometimes referred to as the red line copy.

    To back up a bit, a bill or resolution passed in either the House or Senate is called an engrossed bill or resolution. It's then signed by the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate and sent to the other chamber.

    When a bill or resolution passes both chambers, it's delivered to the enrolling clerk of the chamber where the bill originated. The bill is prepared in its final form -- called the enrolled bill. The enrolled bill is then signed by the presiding officers of the House and the Senate and sent to the President of the United States.

    When a bill is signed into law by the President, it's next sent to the Office of the Federal Register, a part of the National Archives & Records Administration, assigned a law number and published as a slip law. Slip laws are made available online through the U.S. Government Publishing Office and they are used until the law is published in a more permanent form.

    Every public and private law is eventually published in the Statutes at Large in order of the date it was enacted. All public laws are later incorporated into the U.S. Code -- which is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. In fact, 1 USC 106 details printing bills and joint resolutions.

    The signed, 'red line' copy of a law will come to the National Archives. These records are part of Record Group 11 -- General Records of the U.S. Government. If you're interested in obtaining a copy of an original, enrolled law, you can contact archives1reference@nara.gov.

    Congress.gov is the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. It's presented by the Library of Congress using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Publishing Office, Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service. Congress.gov is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns.

    For more detail about the legislative process, I highly recommend a resource available online via Congress.gov called: 'Enactment of a Law--Learn About the Legislative Process.' Scroll down to the section on 'Signatures of Speaker and Vice President.'



  • Hello-- I think people would be interested in who or  or what dictates not just the substance but the format and style of legislation, such as the use of italics here,  or spelling-out of "1911."  As the questioner pointed noted,  this amendment is different in format from other similar legislation.  Thanks

  • Hi Robert --

    Interesting question. I think it's best addressed to the Enrolling Clerks in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate (part of the Offices of the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate respectively).

    A House Enrolling Clerk prepares all messages to the Senate regarding passed legislation, the official engrossed copy of all House-passed measures, and the official enrollment of all House-originated measures that have cleared both bodies of Congress. Similarly, a Senate Enrolling Clerk proofreads and prepares for printing all Senate-passed legislation prior to its transmittal.

    There's information available online on the details of the enrollment process, section-by-section guides to understanding federal legislation, and the Official Style Manual of the Government Publishing Office -- but I haven't been able to find anything that gets into the style and formatting of legislation.