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Revised Statutes of the United States 18 Stat. 1 (1875)


In 1866, Congress authorized the President to appoint a commission "to revise, simplify, arrange, and consolidate all statutes of the United States." The revision, completed in 1874 and modified in 1878, constituted the first official codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States. The revision supersedes the original public laws it consolidated. Except for those portions of the revision that have been repealed, amended, or superseded by subsequent compilations of federal statutes, the revision remains the authoritative statement of federal statutes enacted prior to 1874.

The revision was not supposed to work substantive changes in the code. But some relatively straightforward statutes became hopelessly confused as a result of the revision. Its most drastic effects may have been upon civil rights statutes designed to enhance and protect constitutional rights. The revision's treatment of the jurisdiction of the federal courts to hear civil rights cases brought under section 1983, title 42, united states code, generated a century of confusion that was furthered by Justice harlan fiske stone's opinion in hague v. cio (1939) and that culminated in Lynch v. Household Finance Corporation (1972), Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization (1979), and a 1980 amendment providing for jurisdiction in all such cases. The revision's scattering of the civil rights act of 1866 throughout the Code contributed to that provision's century of near dormancy, to the Court's questionable reading of the 1866 act's intended scope in jones v. alfred h. mayer co. (1968) and runyon v. mccrary (1976), to a confusing of civil rights removal statutes that the Court only slightly illuminated in Georgia v. Rachel (1966) and City of Greenwood v. Peacock (1966), and to a misunderstanding, manifested in Robertson v. Wegmann (1978) and Board of Regents v. Tomanio (1980), of Congress's intent with respect to the role of state law in federal civil rights cases.

Theodore Eisenberg


Sunstein, Cass 1982 Section 1983 and the Private Enforcement of Federal Law. University of Chicago Law Review 49: 401–409.

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