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Legal Citation

Tips and tricks for starting out with the Bluebook, ALWD, or other legal citation guide.

The Citation of Statutes

This section of the research guide specifically provides federal statues' citation rules in the current version of the ALWD Guide.

A statute is a written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level. Statutes set forth general propositions of law that courts apply to specific situations as a  primary law source. Individuals find the various topic under the specific codes such as criminal law, tax law, etc.

A statute begins as a bill proposed or sponsored by a legislator. If the bill survives the legislative committee process and is approved by both houses of the legislature, the bill becomes law when it is signed by the executive officer (the president on the federal level or the governor on the state level).

When a bill becomes law, the various provisions in the bill are called statutes. The term statute signifies the elevation of a bill from the legislative proposal to law. State and federal statutes are compiled in statutory codes that group the statutes by subject.

Citing from Current Official Statutory Code

Rule 14 of the ALWD guide presents the citation structure of the federal code (p.120).  Citing from the current official statutory code is preferred. A new edition of the official United States Code is published every six years, with a cumulative supplement published annually.

A statute's name (official or popular name) should be included in a citation if it will assist your readers in identifying it. Rule 14.2(a). The U.S. Code generally includes these following elements:  

[Title number]  U.S.C. [Section symbol § Section number] (Year). 

Examples: 17 U.S.C. § 1201 (2006);  21 U.S.C. § 331(a) (2012). 

Appendix 1 lists citation forms for the codes and session laws of the federal and state governments, and other United States jurisdictions.

Citing from Unofficial United States Codes

If a current official code does not exist, a citation to a current, unofficial code is preferred. 

Unofficial, commercial publications are often published much more frequently and quickly than official publications.  Because of this, citations for relatively recent statutes will typically be to an unofficial code. At the Federal level, the official code publication is the United States Code (U.S.C.).  There are also two unofficial codes, the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A) and the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.).

A citation to a federal statute in one of the unofficial codes is essentially the same as a citation to the U.S.C with the addition of the publisher. Rule 14.2(f). Commercial publications, specifically Westlaw and LexisNexis publish U.C.S.A.

[Title number]  [U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S.] [§ Section Number]  [Publisher] (Year).

Examples:  21 U.S.C.A. § 331(a) (Westlaw through P.L. 113-9 (excluding P.L. 113-4)); 21 U.S.C.S. § 331(a) (Lexis Advance through P.L. 113-11).