Skip to main content
Law Library Homepage About the Law Library Research Services Faculty Students Help Ask a Law Librarian Law Library Home page UNC Libraries Law Library Blog Twitter

North Carolina Constitution, Statutes & Ordinances Research

This guide provides an overview of sources and research strategies for North Carolina statutory law, including the state's constitution, statutes, session laws, and county/municipal ordinances.

North Carolina Constitutional and Statutory Framework

Constitutional and Statutory Framework for North Carolina Municipalities

Counties and municipalities are the primary forms of local government in North Carolina (sometimes called cities, towns, or villages). The North Carolina Constitution grants the General Assembly the authority to create, abolish, and govern cities, counties, and other local governments as the General Assembly sees fit. This exclusive authority to empower local governments may take either of two forms: general laws that apply across the state or local acts (sometimes called special acts) that apply to particular counties or municipalities.

To learn more about the North Carolina General Assembly's role in county and municipal law, review Chapter 160A, "Cities and Towns,"  of the General Statutes of North Carolina. Note that other laws affecting municipalities are sprinkled throughout the General Statutes of North Carolina.

Municipal Charters

Municipal Charters

North Carolina municipalities are created by incorporation with a grant of charter by the General Assembly. In conducting legal research, it may be necessary to find a municipal charter. The best way to locate a charter is to search North Carolina session laws to find the relevant session law incorporating a locale. Search terms like “incorporate,” “incorporation,” and “charter” are likely to be useful in locating municipal charters in session laws.

Using North Carolina Session Laws

The best way to locate a charter is to search through the North Carolina session laws to find the law that incorporated a locale. Using terms like "incorporate," "incorporation," and "charter" are likely to be useful in locating municipal charters in the session laws. The following resources can be used to search through the North Carolina session laws online: 

  • North Carolina General Assembly - The NCGA website provides access to an unofficial version of North Carolina's session laws from 1959-present. The website allows users to search through the session laws by citation or key terms. This is a great resource to use if you are searching for session laws on a particular topic, but you do not yet have any citations. 
  • North Carolina State Government Publications Collection: The State Library of North Carolina provides access to digital versions of the official Session Laws of North Carolina from 1777-present. This collection is best used when you already have a citation or specific legislative year identified. 

The UNC Libraries also hold some municipal charters, scattered among the various libraries. Search the catalog to find the precise location for these charters on the UNC campus.

Municipal Ordinances

Municipal Ordinances 

Municipal ordinances are all laws passed by a local governing body, usually a county, city, village, township, etc. The laws themselves can be referred to by many names, including "ordinance," "code," or "bylaw." These local laws carry the full force and effect of law in the municipality, as long as they do not conflict with the laws of the state in which the municipality is located. 

Online Publishers 

Many local governments publish their municipal codes through online publishers. These publishers usually provide access to municipal ordinances for free via their websites.

The following is a list of the major online local law publishers: 

  • Municode: Municode is the largest private, online publisher of local laws, and it provides access to ordinances from all fifty states. Note, however, that not every county or municipality is included in its online database. Researchers can browse ordinances by a county or municipality’s table of contents or search using keywords. Publishes North Carolina municipal laws. 
  • American Legal: American Legal is a private company that publishes codes of ordinances and provides online access for a variety of U.S. states—over half of the fifty states. Browse ordinances by a county or municipality’s table of contents or search using keywords. If you cannot find a North Carolina county listed in Municode, it is likely to be found on American Legal. Publishes North Carolina municipal laws. 
  • Code Publishing Co.:  Code Publishing Co. is a private company that publishes ordinances for municipalities in approximately half the American states. The coverage of municipalities in western states is particularly strong. Browse ordinances by a county or municipality’s table of contents or search using keywords. Publishes a very small amount of North Carolina municipal laws. 
  • General Code: General Code is a service provided by the nonprofit International Code Council. Their eCode360® platform provides access to some U.S. municipal codes, with the coverage in northeastern and central states being particularly strong. Browse ordinances by a county or municipality’s table of contents or search using keywords. Does NOT publish North Carolina municipal laws. 
  • Sterling CodifiersSterling Codifiers is a private company that publishes local ordinances for states in the Midwest and West. Browse ordinances by a county or municipality's table of contents or search using keywords. Does NOT publish North Carolina municipal laws. 
  • Quality Code Publishing: Quality Code Publishing is a private company that publishes local ordinances for states in the West. Browse ordinances by a county or municipality's table of contents or search using keywords. Does NOT publish North Carolina municipal laws

County & Town Websites

Some North Carolina counties and towns publish their ordinances on their own websites. A list of county websites can be found through the UNC School of Government. The School of Government also provides a list of North Carolina city, town, and village websites.


Subscription Databases

Lexis Advance: Lexis Advance provides access to municipal codes for towns and cities in most states. has municipal codes for towns and counties in most states. Because municipal codes are updated on a sporadic basis, be sure to note the last time a particular ordinance was updated. 

Historical Municipal Ordinances 

Historically, individual counties or municipalities printed their own municipal codes. These codes were printed sporadically, and it is difficult to confirm the publication schedule for any specific municipality. Both the law library and Wilson Library hold print copies of historical municipal ordinances for many North Carolina counties, along with some local ordinances from other states. The majority of the items in this colletion date from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. If you are looking for a specific county or city, run a search in the UNC Libraries catalog for the county's name with the words "code" or "ordinance" included in the search. 

If you would like to review the law library's print collection of historical municipal codes, please feel free to stop by the reference desk. The reference librarians can direct you to the location of these materials on the first floor. We can also confirm whether a specific municipal code is in our print collections. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources on Municipal Law Research

Secondary sources are not themselves the law, but they can help researchers to understand the law and how various different laws relate to one another. Secondary sources that focus on municipal law focus both on the procedural process of local lawmaking and also provide insight into particular topics/areas that are typically the focus of local law. 

The following sections outline various different types of secondary sources that can support municipal law research. 

Local Government Associations 

Local government associations, typically national groups comprised of members of local governments, are excellent resources for tracking trends and larger issues in local government law. These associations are also often the source for draft language for updated municipal ordinances. 

  • National Association of Counties: This organization provides topical information on a variety of local government law issues, but it also regularly publishes reports and toolkits on local governments issues. 
  • National League of Cities: The NLC is an advocacy organization that represents over 19,495 cities, towns, and villages along with 49 state municipal leagues. Their yearly publication, The State of the Cities, provides a useful overview of important issues for local governments. 

Treatises and Legal Practice Materials 

The treatises and other legal practice materials in this section provide a variety of useful information for the municipal law researcher. In addition to providing in depth overviews of municipal law topics, these resources also identify related interpretive case law and provide access to useful forms and other practice materials.