A multi-layer network element for forwarding received packets from an input port to one or more output ports. The packet is examined to look for first and second forwarding information. A packet is also assigned to a class and provided with default packet forwarding information. An associative memory is searched once for each type of information. The results from the two searches are combined with the default packet forwarding information to forward the packet to the appropriate one or more output ports. In some instances, the results of the first search dominate the forwarding decision, in other, the results of the second search dominate the forwarding decision, and in still other instances, the default information dominates.