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Law Research Guide: Federal Laws

About Laws (Statutes, Acts)

Where to find Bills & Resolutions

Where to find Histories of Bills and Laws

 

How to Read Citations for Federal Laws

  1. Federal laws are first published individually. Sample partial citation: P.L. 108-458 (458th Public Law of the 108th Congress)
  2. All laws from a congressional session are then published in United States Statutes at Large. They are arranged in numerical order. Sample partial citation: 118 Stat 3638 (volume 118, page 3638 of United States Statutes at Large)
  3. All laws in force (including amendments) at a given moment in time are periodically published in the United States Code. They are arranged by topic. Sample partial citations:
    • 50 USC 402 (title 50, section 402 of the official United States Code), or
    • 50 USCS 402 (title 50, section 402 of the commercial publication United States Code Service) or
    • 50 USCA 402 (title 50, section 402 of the commercial publication United States Code Annotated)

Finding a Citation

The best and easiest way to find a law is by citation, but you may know only the law's short form or popular name, e.g., Dodd-Frank. These sources will help you identify the official citation.

Finding Federal Law

  • If you want to see a particular law as originally passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, use either (1) laws published individually, or (2) United States Statutes at Large.
  • If you want to see all of the laws on a given topic, use (3) United States Code or its commercial counterparts. Unlike the official United States Code, the commercial sources include interpretive information, for example, court decisions applying to a Code section. A law may contain many unrelated parts and so, once codified, may not remain intact once it is placed into the Code. Instead, these parts will be broken down based on their topics and placed into the appropriate title or section of the Code. All Code sources tell you where certain sections of a statute are placed in the Code. Remember, the laws as presented in the Code are those currently in force and so will change regularly as sections are amended or repealed.

More information

Understanding Federal Statutes, Insights on Law and Society 13 (Spring 2013)

Federal Laws

These sources provide the laws as passed and signed by the President.

 

Congress

Years

Format

Location

Indexing/Notes

1. Public Laws
(published individually)
 

93rd-

1973-

online

WestlawNext

 

93rd-

1973-

online

congress.gov

 

100th-

1988-

online

ProQuest Congressional

Search by PL number, Statutes-at-Large cite, enacted bill, or keyword; Use the "Get a Document" tab

100th, 2nd sess.-

Sept. 1988-

online

Nexis Uni

Choose: Menu > All Sources > Search Within Sources > USCS - Public Laws.

104th-

1995-

online

govinfo, search or browse

most recent Congress

online

WestlawNext

 

2. U.S. Statutes at Large
(published in numerical order)

1st-

1789-

paper

Govt. Doc.
AE 2.111 Best Bet

Index in each volume

1st-

1789-

online

Nexis Uni

Choose: Menu > "All Sources" > "Search Within Sources" > United States Statutes at Large > Drop down menu next to "United States Statutes at Large": "Add source as a search filter".

1st-

1789-

online

U.S. Statutes at Large via HeinOnline Best Bet

 

1st-41st

1789-1875

online

Statutes at Large, 1789-1875, Library of Congress, American Memory

 

1st-81st

1789-1950

online

Law Library of Congress 1 searchable PDF per Congress

82nd-

1951-

online

govinfo, search or browse

 

 

82nd-

1951-

online

govtrack

 

3. U.S. Code

U.S. Code, United States Code, United States Code Annotated, and United States Code Service include laws in force at a given point in time, organized by Title (subject).

 

Years

Format

Location

Indexing/Notes

United States Code 1925-present online United States Code via HeinOnline Best Bet  
United States Code 1925-1988 (with content to 1993) online United States Code, via Library of Congress Browseable but not searchable. Researchers can download PDF files of up to 20 pages per download. Instructions.
United States Code Service (USCS) 1992- online Nexis Uni Choose: Menu > "All Sources" > "Search Within Sources" > USCS - United States Code Service - Titles 1 through 54 > Drop down menu next to "USCS - United States Code Service - Titles 1 through 54": "Add source as a search filter"; or,
Choose: "Advanced Search" > "Select a specific content type" > "Codes" > search, then limit to "Sources": USCS - United States Code Service - Titles 1 through 54.
United States Code 1994-present online govinfo, search or browse  
United States Code 1994-present (most current) online United States Code, Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives  

United States Code (official publication)

current edition

paper

Govt Ref Y 1.2/5: Best Bet

Does not include annotations.

U.S. Code

current edition

online

Legal Information Institute (Cornell)

Browse or search by title or Table of Popular Names; easy to use

United States Code Annotated (USCA)

current edition

online

WestlawNext

Search by keyword and citation. Same as U.S. Code except includes annotations.

United States Code Service

current edition

online

ProQuest Congressional

Search by keyword and citation. Same as U.S. Code except includes annotations.

What is the difference between ....?

  Laws
(enacted by Congress)
Rules/regulations
(from the Executive branch)
Organized in chronological order United States Statutes at Large Federal Register (FR)
In force at a given time, organized by subject matter United States Code (USC) Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

U.S.C. Titles

United States Code (USC), Table of Contents, 2017

Title 1   General Provisions

Title 2   The Congress

Title 3   The President

Title 4   Flag and Seal, Seat of Government, and the States

Title 5   Government Organization and Employees; and Appendix

Title 6   Domestic Security

Title 7   Agriculture

Title 8   Aliens and Nationality

Title 9   Arbitration

Title 10   Armed Forces

Title 11   Bankruptcy; and Appendix

Title 12   Banks and Banking

Title 13   Census

Title 14   Coast Guard

Title 15   Commerce and Trade

Title 16   Conservation

Title 17   Copyrights

Title 18   Crimes and Criminal Procedure; and Appendix

Title 19   Customs Duties

Title 20   Education

Title 21   Food and Drugs

Title 22   Foreign Relations and Intercourse

Title 23   Highways

Title 24   Hospitals and Asylums

Title 25   Indians

Title 26   Internal Revenue Code

Title 27   Intoxicating Liquors

Title 28   Judiciary and Judicial Procedure; and Appendix

Title 29   Labor

Title 30   Mineral Lands and Mining

Title 31   Money and Finance

Title 32   National Guard

Title 33   Navigation and Navigable Waters

Title 35   Patents

Title 36   Patriotic and National Observances, Ceremonies, and Organizations

Title 37   Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services

Title 38   Veterans' Benefits

Title 39   Postal Service

Title 40   Public Buildings, Property, and Works

Title 41   Public Contracts

Title 42   The Public Health and Welfare

Title 43   Public Lands

Title 44   Public Printing and Documents

Title 45   Railroads

Title 46   Shipping

Title 47   Telecommunications

Title 48   Territories and Insular Possessions

Title 49   Transportation

Title 50   War and National Defense; and Appendix

Title 51   National and Commercial Space Programs

Title 52   Voting and Elections

Title 53   [Reserved]

Title 54   National Park Service and Related Programs [Enacted, Release Pending]

 

A title, in this case, is a "subdivision of a statute or code". (Black's Law Dictionary)

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