As noted above, alcohol policy is established by Federal, State, and local laws. In some cases, State and Federal constitutional grants of authority overlap. In addition, all three branches of State and Federal Governments—the executive, the legislative, and the judicial—affect the framework of alcohol policy in the United States.
Every State and the Federal Government publish statutory laws in two forms: enacted bills and codified statutes. Enacted bills are those bills enacted into law during a given legislative session. Enacted bills create new laws or amend existing laws. Codified statutes are the enacted bills organized by subject.
To interpret enacted bills, examination of statutory codes is necessary. A single enacted bill can affect multiple codified statutes. Similarly, a codified statute may be the result of multiple enacted bills from one or more legislative sessions.
Every State and the Federal Government also creates administrative laws, often called "regulations." Generally, administrative regulations are created by executive agencies under authority already established by statutory laws. Typically, administrative regulations are first entered in registers or other record forms. Later, the administrative regulations are codified by subject for ease of reference.
A great deal of governance surrounding alcohol policy is found in State administrative codes or the codes of the U.S. Government, including the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations. States vary in their requirements for issuing formal regulations, and many governance decisions may be made in administrative decisions that are not included in a State's administrative code. Administrative agencies may also have review processes designed to resolve conflicts arising under or requiring the application of administrative regulations. The resulting administrative decisions also have the effect of law.
Law is also defined by courts charged with resolving cases requiring the interpretation, application, or implementation of various laws. The Federal court system is separate from those of each of the States. Each system has its own hierarchy of appellate courts to review the decisions of the lower or trial courts. The opinions issued by these courts are known as decisions, or "cases," and are collectively referred to as "case law."
Courts only review a particular law when asked by a public entity or a private party. All court cases start at the trial level and most decisions are made by the trial courts without further review. Trial court cases have little or no effect (have little precedential value, in legal terms) beyond the jurisdiction where the trial court is located, and trial court decisions are not widely reported or easily accessible.
Parties dissatisfied with a trial court's application of the law can seek review from an appeals court, with the U.S. Supreme Court the final arbiter of Federal law and State Supreme Courts the final arbiter of State law. Appellate cases are routinely reported and have precedential value within the jurisdiction where the appellate court sits.
APIS does not include information on case law.