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Federal (U.S.) Legislation Research

This guide focuses on locating sources for United States legislative history.

Overview of Statutes

Public Laws (“Slip Laws”)

When Congress passes a law, it is published as a “slip law.”  Slip laws are not indexed in paper.

Statutes at Large

At the end of each session of Congress, the slip laws are compiled into the Statutes at Large bound volumes.  Each volume contains an index, though covering that year only.

  • Digitally signed PDF versions of the 1951 to present editions are available on Govinfo.
  • Paper volumes from the 42nd (1873) to present Congress are on the third floor of the library in Range 46.  Consult the catalog for details.

United States Code

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives produces the United States Code, a “consolidation and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States.”  A new edition is released every six years, but the actual volumes are not available until years after the date on the edition.   The final volumes of the United States Code are its index.

  • PDF and text versions of the 1994 to present editions are available on Govinfo.  The more recent PDFs are digitally signed.
  • Paper volumes for the current edition are on the third floor of the library in Range 46. See the catalog for the 2018 volumes that the library has received.
  • Paper volumes for 20122006200019941988197619701964,  195819521946, and 1940 are in the Richey Reading Room.
  • West Publishing’s United States Code Annotated is in the reserve area of the library.  It is updated with pocket parts and replacement volumes.  Consult the catalog for details.
  • Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company’s United States Code Service is on the third floor of the library at KF62 1972 .L38 .  It is updated with pocket parts and replacement volumes.  Consult the catalog for details.

United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN)

West Publishing reprints the public laws, adds legislative history, and publishes it as United States Code Congressional and Administrative News. USCCAN has monthly supplements, which are replaced by bound volumes.  According to the Library of Congress, “USCCAN contains major committee reports and sometimes Presidential signing statements as part of its Legislative History section for the public laws.”   The monthly supplements have indices and there is an annual index.

United States Code

Using Supplements to the United States Code

As journal students know, Bluebook Table 1.1 says that when citing the United States Code, one should “Cite to U.S.C. if therein.” But sometimes the supplements can look a bit confusing. In this article, I hope to clear up some confusion.

The first thing to know is that a new edition of the United States Code is published every six years and a new supplement is published for each of the five years after a new edition. While most of these supplements are in multiple volumes, the researcher uses them just like one would use a pocket part — a voluminous, freestanding, hardbound pocket part. (That is, after looking up the citation in the main volumes, look up the same citation in the supplement to see if the supplement includes anything.) For historical purposes, our library keeps all of an edition’s supplements on the shelf with that edition. But unless a researcher is doing historical research, the only supplement she needs is the most recent one.

The supplements are numbered sequentially by the year after the edition they supplement. For example, the latest edition is 2012. Supplement I is dated 2013, Supplement II is dated 2014, and so forth. So, if a cite-checker sees a cite to “18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2013),” he knows that something is amiss; depending on what the author really means to cite, it should be “18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2012)” (citing the 2012 code) or “18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(Supp. I 2013)” (citing the 2013 supplement). Supplements tend to be published a year or so after their cover date. Most supplements arrive in multiple shipments spread out over several months, so it is possible that the most recent supplement for an earlier title (e.g. Title 18) is Supplement II, but the most recent supplement for a later title (e.g. Title 26) is Supplement I.

If you are cite checking with the United States Code on GPO’s Govinfo, there is an additional source of confusion. The GPO maintains an authenticated (i.e. digitally signed), but formally unofficial compilation of the U.S. Code on Govinfo. Consequently, the cite-checker may find a file with a 2013 date, but what the 2013 date means is that GPO has taken the 2012 edition and incorporated 2013 amendments, if any. This is no more official than the commercial U.S.C.A. version.

What does all of this mean? It simply means that, when citing to the official United States Code, do not use the Govinfo version — use HeinOnline, which has PDFs of the official versions that have been released. If the content you need has not yet been published in a supplement, check with your editor about whether you should cite the commercial compilation (i.e. U.S.C.A.) or the session laws (i.e. United States Statutes at Large). The answer will depend largely on the intent of the author’s reference, and whether it is meant to direct the reader to the effective law at a particular (in this case, current) moment in time or to a specific congressional enactment.

Slip Laws

Slip Laws and Statutes and Codes, Oh My!

Many of you may have seen the Schoolhouse Rock video I’m Just a Bill, which tells how a bill becomes a law. But after the President signs a new law, the new law also needs to be promulgated, which Merriam-Webster defines as made known and put into action or force.  This article is about the documents generated in the promulgation process.

The new “session law,” or individual legislative enactment, is initially released as a “slip law.” Most slip laws are just one or two pages of paper, though major legislation can result in very lengthy slip laws. Most federal session laws are Public Laws (acts of general applicability). Public laws have a number that communicates the Congress that passed it and a sequential numbering among the acts of Congress --- for instance, P.L.111-108 was the 108th Act of the 111th Congress.

The GPO has digitally-signed PDF and text slip laws from the 104th to present Congress on FDSYS.

At the end of a session of Congress, all of the slip laws are published in the United States Statutes at Large, which remains the permanent official source for positive evidence of federal law. (The page numbering is identical to the page numbering printed “ahead of time” on the slip laws.) Statutes at Large volumes from 2003 to 2008 are available on Govinfo. The Law Library’s paper Statutes at Large volumes are shelved outside the third-floor computer lab.

All permanent, public laws are then codified. This involves updating the existing sections of the United States Code to include the new legislative enactments. Non-permanent laws are not codified. An example of a non-permanent law is the annual budget legislation. The Government Printing Office publishes the official version of the United States Code. The official version contains the laws themselves, with nothing else. Digitally signed PDF volumes of the official version are available on GovInfo. The Law Library’s print volumes of the official United States Code are shelved with the slip laws and Statutes at Large.

The commercial publishers West and Lexis each produce annotated versions of the U.S. Code, which contain extensive references to cases relating to each code section. To illustrate the large volume of text added by, for example, West’s annotations, here is a picture of the official United States Code:

and here is a picture of United States Code Annotated:

West also produces an annotated version of the Ohio Revised Code, called Baldwin’s Ohio Revised Code Annotated. Lexis produces Page’s Ohio Revised Code Annotated. Print versions of both of these are available in the Law Library’s first-floor conscience area. Though the color-schemes used in the book design of these publications pre-date their acquisitions by Lexis and West, it turned out that the red set is now published by Lexis and the blue set by West.

The unannotated Ohio Revised Code is freely available online from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.