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On the question Is it legal to go take my license plates off a car I sold, without realizing I should keep my plates? there has been some back-and-forth editing on the tags. Specifically and were both added, and then united-states was removed again, with some discussion in the comments particularly this comment by Ryan M and this one by Strawberry.

Ryan M maintains that when a question appertains to only a single one of the US states it should use the tag for that state, and not the tag for the US as a whole. Strawberry responds that if one is using tags to filter questions, it is much more helpful to be able to exclude (or include I would add) all us-related posta by using a single tag than having to filter on 52 different ones (each state, DC, and US).

Now the tag description form the united-states tag reads:

For questions specific to the United States as a whole, or that span multiple state jurisdictions. If your question is related to a specific state then you should use that state's tag instead (or as well). (emphasis added)

This seems to permit, but not require, the use of the the united-states tag on questions about the law of a single state. Is, or is not, the use of both tags a good practice?

More generally, where a tag is broad, and another tag refers to a sub-section of its range (say and or and ) is it a good practice to use both, or only the more restrictive sub-tag? Using the wider tag permits easier filtering and selection, but seems redundant on the question itself. I am honestly not sure, but it might be as well to have an agreed guideline to prevent future disputes, and tell people what they must do in searching and filtering.

I note that a related issue was discussed, but not settled, in Should the tag [united-kingdom] be removed, and replaced with its 4 countries?

There has been an objection to the term "subtag". I meant to indicate any tag whose agreed subject matter is a proper subset of the subject of another tag. Call it a "subset tag" if you like, and call the more inclusive tag a "superset tag".

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    Unfortunately, it isn't possible to @mention users who haven't interacted with a question. See How do comment @replies work? for exactly how that system (sometimes unintuitively) works.
    – Ryan M
    Mar 7 at 0:20
  • As a non-US user, yes, please add the US tag as well as any state tag. This site isn't Us only, and having a tag that clearly states the question pertains to the US (even if only to one state) is helpful. If this was a US-only site, that would be different, but it ain't.
    – Polygnome
    Mar 16 at 19:54
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Tags are non-hierarchical

is not in any way a sub tag of . Tags on SE are non-hierarchical. As such a search or filter for one will not find the other.

In order to maximise tag utility, put as many appropriate tags as you can up to the limit of 5. If is one of the 5 best tags for the question, use it. If is, then use that.

Each question will stand on its merits as to what the best tags are.

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  • Yes. If I want to search for (or exclude) all USA questions, I don't want to have to specify 50+ tags in the search expression. ¶ The concept of an all-united-states supertag that implicitly includes all the others is interesting, Or perhaps it could be implemented with hierarchical names, such as replacing texas with texas.us, which would automatically match both "texas" and ".us" in searches. This idea is of course general to all of SE, not specific to Law. Mar 8 at 13:49
  • The question remains whether the [united-states] tag is appropriate for questions not relating to multiple states or US federal law. Currently, [united-states] is the only tag we have for US federal law, so if all questions relating to any state were tagged [united-states], it would be quite difficult to find US federal law questions.
    – Ryan M
    Mar 9 at 0:20
  • @Ryan Tags may not be hierarchical in terms of the search function, but when the subject matter of one tag is a proper subset of the subject of another, then "sub-tag" seems a reasonable term. But call it a "subset-tag" if you like. The question reams, should both the sub-set and superset tags be used as a general rule when both apply? Speci9fically should an item about a specific US state also get the US tag? This answer seems to say "yes" to that question. Have I understood correctly? Should we create a us-federal-law tag? Mar 9 at 1:31
  • @DavidSiegel no, see edit.
    – Dale M Mod
    Mar 9 at 1:57
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My understanding of the current situation, based on the tag wiki excerpt:

For questions specific to the United States as a whole, or that span multiple state jurisdictions. If your question is related to a specific state then you should use that state's tag instead (or as well).

is that the tag is to be used when the question relates to United States federal law, or, optionally, if it relates to multiple states.

My understanding of (or as well) is that if a question relates to multiple states, one could tag the question with both those states' tags, as well as .

That would not apply to the linked question, which is purely in terms of Texas law. The answers cite Texas law, and would not apply to any other state, as was contended in the comments.


I'm not opposed to arguments that this should be changed to suggest that both should be tagged, but that seems like it would be hard to consistently enforce, since it would take up at least two of the five tag slots in any question about a specific state. It does make it unfortunate that one can't easily filter for questions about anywhere in the United States, but also Law.SE has little enough traffic that it's pretty practical to read most of them just by opening the front page or the new questions list, even if you only do so every few days (also, I think most of the questions are about things within United States).

The current situation also makes searching for a question for a specific state easier: by searching for that specific state and united-states, you'd get all questions that are specific to your state and to multiple states, rather than every related question about every state.

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  • I think this misreads the current direction. "Or as well" seems celarly to apply to "is related to a specific state" and aut6horizes using either the state tagtonly or booth the state tag and the more general US tag. I do not think removing the US tag is justified at present unless the slot is needed for a different relevant tag. But that leaves uncertain whether one really should use both or not. So far, I see no sensible argument against doing so. Mar 7 at 18:57
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is it a good practice to use both, or only the more restrictive sub-tag?

Including both tags is usually preferable because it allows the user to decide what granularity he wants when doing a search (I for one don't bother reviewing tags except when one or more of them clearly is/are misleading).

The fact that a question relates to just one specific state might matter only when the substance of the law of that state is so different from the rest that using the more inclusive tag would be counterproductive in a search or pointless. However, the reality is that on many issues most of the jurisdictions in the US present significant similarities or overlap in the substance of their laws. At the very least, the more inclusive tag would bring results from which other readers can grasp what elements to bear in mind about their respective jurisdiction.

A non-jurisdictional analogy is the topic of contracts. The tag clearly is more inclusive than , , and other tags. A question can be very narrow and specifically about breach of contract, but that does not change the fact that it might relevant to readers interested in learning about contracts as a whole. Consequently, there would be no reason for prohibiting on questions pertaining to --or tagged with-- .

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  • I agree with this as a general opinion. But the linked question is about car registration and laws regarding TX license plates. To anyone who does not understand the federalism of the US, the "united-states" tag might suggest that this is applicable to other states, too.
    – grovkin
    Mar 8 at 5:15
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    @grovkin "the linked question is about car registration and laws regarding TX license plates". Hence the 2nd paragraph in the answer: Are cars & plates an issue unique to TX? No. Is TX's approach to the matter so different up to uselessness toward grasping how other states might deal with the issue? I highly doubt it (see my remark about similarities & overlap). To those without sophisticated background in federalism, the fact that answers to the linked question explicitly refer to TX statutes suffices for suggesting that other states might have a statutory counterpart/equivalent. Mar 8 at 9:48
  • While I don't exclude that possibility, I would be very surprised if the DMV procedures are not extremely different from state to state.
    – grovkin
    Mar 8 at 11:21
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    @grovkin "I would be very surprised if the DMV procedures are not extremely different from state to state". Then this will surprise you: MCL 257.233(1) is the Michigan counterpart of Texas Code section 504.901 that David Siegel quoted in his answer. MCL 257.233(1) by referring to "section 217(4)" even resembles the exemption that TX provides to dealers. Much of copycat legislation makes sense because the goal is to enact civilized order, not to be creative or extremely different. Mar 8 at 14:08
  • It seems like in MI the plates can be transferred to an immediate family member. And in TX they cannot be. Again, someone (unfamiliar with the federalism in the US) might erroneously conclude that "in the US plates maybe transferred to immediate family members" if they saw a quote from the MI statute and it had the "united-states" tag on it.
    – grovkin
    Mar 8 at 20:27
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    @grovkin "in MI the plates can be transferred to an immediate family member. And in TX they cannot be". That does not make the Texas statute "extremely different", since that difference does not suppress the material similarities between TX Code section 504.901 and MCL 257.233. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that someone who is too clueless about federalism in the US will pay much attention to tags anyway when he reads others' questions. Mar 8 at 21:12
  • You are making an estimate guess of someone's priorities. But you are making it in a complete vacuum. This is not a material difference for someone unless someone is wondering about doing just that or has done something like that, in a different country, and is wondering how it would work in the US. Remember that the presumed goal is not legal assistance. It is legal education.
    – grovkin
    Mar 8 at 22:58
  • @grovkin I'm making no assumption about someone's priorities. It is just unreasonable for someone to read "Texas" (or "Michigan", etc.) in the statute name and conclude that it applies to the entire US. Tags are not intended for preempting or curing that extent of shortcomings in a person's rationale. Mar 8 at 23:54
  • You are making an estimated guess of someone's priorities. You do it when you say which details are important and which are not. The fact that there are material similarities of one kind does not negative the fact that there are material differences of a different kind. By electing to emphasize one kind of detail over another, you make a choice of priorities. It's not a shortcoming in a person's rationale to have a set of priorities that closely attend to their own life experience.
    – grovkin
    Mar 9 at 4:25
  • If anything, it is a failure of imagination to overlook someone else priorities in favor of the priorities that closely attend to one's own life experience. But it's not a failure of rationale. This would be why I (for example) can continue this argument with you even though I think you may be overlooking something. Because I continue to labor under the assumption that you are rational, I can hope to illuminate an issue by shining the light on something that you may have dismissed as unimportant or may not have considered at all.
    – grovkin
    Mar 9 at 4:50
  • @grovkin "It's not a shortcoming in a person's rationale to have a set of priorities". You misread my comments. My point is that tags are not intended for curing the flawed rationale of "Although this statute name has 'Texas' in it, I'll automatically conclude that the statute is applicable nationwide". I never ruled out the materiality of "family transfer of plates". My comparison of the MI & TX statutes dismantles your presumption that Texas law is extremely different. Let's continue in chat Mar 9 at 11:30
  • You said that the "difference does not suppress the material similarities between TX Code section 504.901 and MCL 257.233." Did you mean by it that the similarities which it does suppress are immaterial, or did you mean that among the similarities (which it does not erase) there are some material ones?
    – grovkin
    Mar 9 at 13:47
  • @grovkin "Did you mean by it that the similarities which it does suppress are immaterial". As you yourself attested, I said "does not suppress". Your misreading as --or change to-- "does suppress" is unsupported. My point is that if MI law provides conditions A & B and TX law provides C & B, the difference MI.A<>TX.C does not suppress the similarity MI.B=TX.B. By virtue of that similarity, TX is not extremely different. But let's continue in chat, please. Mar 9 at 14:29
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After reading the various answers, I think that the approved practice should be to use both a subset tag and a superset tag in any and every case where both apply, unless the 5-tag limit does not allow room for both, because of other more relevant tags. Thus in the question that started this, both and should be used.

In this comment Ryan argues that the tag should be available for searches specifically about US federal law. But it is already also used for questions that apply to multiple states (as many questions of state law do) where there is no federal law issue. I therefore suggest we create for such questions.

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