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What is a Uniform Law?

Jessica Reed
Jessica Reed

A uniform law or uniform act is an idea for a law proposed by the United States Uniform Law Commission (ULC) and approved by the branch overseeing them, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). The idea is presented to a state legislature in the United States and each state decides whether or not it wants to pass the law. The goal is to create a system of state laws that are similar so that people moving between states are still affected by the same rules and regulations.

The NCCUSL is not a government body and cannot pass laws. Suggestions made by the NCCUSL are just that and have no effect in a state until that specific state chooses to pass the law. The organization formed in 1892 as a way to help unify laws across the United States. The federal government only holds so much power and is limited in what laws it can pass that apply to the entire country. States have their own power to pass laws that apply only to those living in their specific state, though these laws must not go against the Constitution or any federal law.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Need for more uniform laws between states arose when travel became easier and people began to move and do business from state to state. A law that might apply in one state could be useless and have no effect on a person if he or she simply traveled to another state. This caused problems and confusion when dealing with business transactions and other legal matters.

Suggestions for a new uniform law are made by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). This nonprofit, unincorporated association is made of commissioners who are typically appointed by the governor of the state they represent. To be considered for a role as a commissioner, the person must be legally qualified to practice law. Candidates include lawyers, law professors, and judges, with some members from the groups practicing in private and others practicing at the federal level.

Uniform law works in theory but has both its ups and its downs in practice. While it helps maintain similar laws among all states, many uniform laws are passed by only a few states or none at all. A few laws are widely accepted in most states, but even those states that do pass the law may have a slightly different version due to other laws that already exist and affect the new law.

One popular example of a widely accepted uniform law is the Model Penal Code. This specific law was not suggested by the NCCUSL but by the American Law Institute (ALI). The Model Penal Code works to help unify states when it comes to creating criminal laws. It makes suggestions about legal matters and reforms, though the code itself is not technically a law.

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