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Guide to Sources of U.S. Law

Research guide to finding basic sources of United States law.

Online Guides and Documents

Identifying the Problem

What group thought this legislation was needed and why? What is the social history of the problem addressed by the law?

Using Law Reviews

Law review articles are a good place to start your legal research. These articles usually include references to primary legal and other relevant sources. Starting with secondary sources such as these can give you background and citations to help you locate court cases, legislation and regulations.

Where can you find law reviews?

Introduction of a Bill into Congress

Who introduced the bill and what was its original form? What committee was assigned the bill, who was on the committee, and what did they do about the bill?

  • Congressional Index (Ref JK 1001.C73)
    Status of bills, reports, hearings, Public Law number and voting records. VC has 1945-1998.

  • THOMAS
    Bill tracking back to 1973.

  • Congressional Universe
    Legislative histories back to 1969; bill tracking back to 1989.

What was the debate on the floor when the bill came back to the House or Senate?

What, if anything did the President say about the bill when it came to his desk?

Where is the final version of the bill published?

  • Slip laws
    When a law is passed, it first appears as a "slip law," i.e., the text is printed and issued separately. At the end of each Congressional session, the slip laws are published in chronological order as United States Statutes At Large (Main KF 50.U52) Online version covers 104th Congress 1995/96-current. Also in print in US Docs AE 2.110:

  • United States Statutes At Large. 1845-current. (KF 50.U52)
    Includes statutes from 1789 to date in chronological sequence. There is no cumulative index to United States Statutes At Large. Subject access to federal statutes may be obtained through the index to each volume of the Statutes or the topical arrangement of the U.S. Code Service.

  • U.S. Code