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Law

How to find cases, statutes, regulations, and other law-related material

What is legislative history?

As a bill becomes a law, it passes through many hands. At each step, documents are generated: bills, hearings, committee reports, other bills, House or Senate documents, prints, and so on. These documents comprise the law's legislative history and are used by judges and lawyers to determine legislative intent when interpreting and applying statutes in court cases.

Below is an artificially tidy sketch of the federal process with the documents produced at each step and links to help you locate them. As you look at the chart, notice how many of the different kinds of documents have very similar numbers. Because of this it's vital that you note both the numbers and the abbreviations of the source: 107-111 could be a bill number, hearing number, a public law number, or a House or Senate Document. Without the HR, SR, S Hrg, H Hrg, PL, SDoc, or HDoc, you'll never find what you're looking for.

Step Documents
Idea introduced

The idea is written up as a bill or resolution and introduced to a house of Congress (the House of Representatives or the Senate)

Bill
Example: HR 107-35

The bill is referred to a committee

The committee or subcommittee holds hearings, accepts documents, reports favorably or unfavorably, advises changes.

Hearings
Example: S. Hrg. 107-111
  • Southernsearch indexes hearings available in Buley and other CSU libraries.
  • Congress.gov links to some Committee web pages where reports might be available.
  • FDsys has hearings back to 1985

Prints and Documents
Example: H.Doc. 107-34

Reports
Example: H. Rpt. 105-710

  • Congress.gov has online access to reports from the 104th Congress+.
  • Southernsearch indexes reports available in Buley and other CSU libraries
  • FDsys has reports back to 1995
Congress debates the bill and votes Debates are transcribed in the Congressional Record.
Example: 154 Cong.Rec. S 5412
  • Congress.gov has online access to the Congressional Record for the 104th Congress+.
  • FDsys has online access from the 103rd Congress+
  • Congress.gov has online access from the 101st Congress+
  • Congressional Record is available in microfilm in Buley.
Bill becomes law New laws are first published in paper as slip laws and given public law numbers, then published in Statutes at Large
Example: PL 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425

Finally, the law is put into the U.S. Code.
Example: 20 USC 1603 et seq  

OR Presidential Veto In the event that the President vetoes a law, documentation can be found in The Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.