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Federal Legislative History Research

How to perform federal legislative history research.

Gathering Citations

When a bill is first introduced in the House or Senate, it is assigned a number and its text includes a "short title," i.e., the law's popular name. Though this name may change, the bill number stays with the legislation throughout the process. If a bill becomes law, it gets a public law (Pub. L.) number in its first printing as a slip law. All the slip laws are then printed chronologically as session laws in the Statutes at Large (Stat.), before being broken up and codified by subject in the U.S.C. (For more information, see this guide's Pub. L./Stat. tab.)

When looking for a compiled legislative history, using only a law's popular name to find one may be sufficient. If looking for a list of citations, you generally need to know the Pub. L. or Stat. citations. Whatever the case, taking the time to find the original enacted bill's number is a good idea, if only to make better sense of the legislative history documents themselves.

How to Find the Pub. L. Number/Stat. Citation

  • If you know the United States Code (U.S.C.) citation:
    • Look up that section in the Code:
      • Online:
        • Lexis: Legal >  Federal Legal - U.S. > Find Statutes, Regulations, Administrative Materials & Court Rules >  United States Code Service (USCS) Materials > U.S.C.S.
        • Westlaw: All Databases  > U.S. Federal Materials  > Federal Statutes > U.S.C.A.
      • Print: Main Floor, Stack 211
    • The Pub. L. number and Stat. citations that went into making that section are found in parentheses directly following the statute.
    • If there are multiple laws listed, you must narrow down which law led to the portion of the Code that interests you.
    • Look at the notes below the parentheses for information or look up each law until you find that same language.

OR

  • If you know the popular name of the law:
    • Use the "Popular Name Table" of the U.S.C., U.S.C.A., or U.S.C.S.: 
    • If there are multiple laws listed, you must narrow down which law led to the portion of the Code that interests you.
    • Look up each law until you find that same language.

How to Find the Enacted Bill Number (H.R. or S.)

One way to find a law's original bill number is to look up its Pub. L. or Stat. citation. Whichever citation you use, the statute (since 1904) will display the enacted bill number at the top. (For laws prior to 1904, see the Legislative Reference Checklist by Eugene Nabors: Print and Online.)


Another way to find the bill number is to use ProQuest Legislative Insight's "Citation Checker" feature, in which you can enter any citation (Pub. L., Stat., or bill) you have to find the other two.

Example of Finding the Bill Number

Image from GPO.