Researching Federal Legislative History

Compiling a federal legislative history can be complicated.  The following guide offers a selected list of which sources to consult and where to find them.

Always Start with the Text of the Law‭…

United States Code:

Contains all public and permanent federal laws currently in force and‭ ‬is arranged by subject matter.

Where to find:
-  In print‭ ‬(USC,‭ ‬USCA,‭ ‬USCS‭)‬ or‭ ‬online via FDsys,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis
-  If only have name,‭ ‬use a popular name table

Public Laws‭ (‬United States Statutes at Large‭)‬:

When enacted,‭ ‬a law is assigned a sequential public law number and‭ ‬is‭ ‬printed in slip form‭ (‬slip laws‭)‬.

After legislative session ends,‭ ‬public laws are printed chronologically in‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬Statutes at Large‭ ‬(session‭ ‬laws‭)‬.

Where to find:
-  In print‭ (‬Statutes at Large‭)‬ or‭ ‬online via‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬Thomas,‭ ‬Hein‭ ‬Online‭*‬,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis

‭…‬then,‭ ‬Consult‭ ‬the‭ ‬Legislative History


Assigned‭ ‬sequential numbers within each Chamber.

Multiple versions reflect‭ ‬stages in the legislative process.

Where to find:
-  Online via Thomas,‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬ProQuest Congressional,‭ ‬Westlaw‭*‬,‭ ‬Lexis‭

Conference Committee‭ ‬Reports:

After passage in both chambers,‭ ‬members from‭ ‬each meet to resolve differences between two versions of the bill.‭ ‬Report‭ ‬contains the agreed-upon language of the bill and an explanation of the compromise.

Where to find:
-  In print‭ (‬USCCAN‭)‬ or‭ ‬online via Thomas,‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬ProQuest Congressional‭*‬,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis‭

Floor Debate‭ (‬Congressional Record‭)‬:

Contains verbatim account of the proceedings and debate of Congress,‭ ‬as well as‭ ‬inserted materials and communications from the President and exec‭ ‬agencies.

Where to find:
-  In print‭ (‬Congressional Record‭)‬ or‭ ‬online via‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬Thomas,‭ ‬ProQuest Congressional‭*‬,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis

Committee Reports:

Committee members report and make recommendations to the House or Senate as a whole.‭ 

Where to find:
-  In print‭ (‬USCCAN‭)‬ or‭ ‬online via Thomas,‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬ProQuest Congressional‭*‬,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis‭


Hearings‭ ‬are held to enable committees to gather opinions and information on proposed legislation.‭ 

Where to find:
-  Online via‭ ‬FDsys,‭ ‬ProQuest Congressional‭*‬,‭ ‬Westlaw,‭ ‬Lexis‭ 

For assistance locating any legislative history documents, contact a reference librarian.

*  This source contains the most complete holdings

Submitted by Bonnie Shucha on November 11, 2011

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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