A legislative history is a collection of documents produced by a legislature during the legislative process by which a bill becomes a law. These materials are used to determine legislative intent or to clarify statutory language, but they carry only persuasive legal authority.



Introduction to legislative histories

From a Bill to a Law

LexisNexis – How Does a Bill Become Law

HeinOnline Federal Legislative History Library


Years associated with a particular Congress

It is often helpful to know the Congressional Session # or year(s) to research a bill, report or law, such as 112th Congress, 2011-2012.

Glossary of congressional termstry Cloture


Laws, regulations, executive orders, annotated constitution

Slip Laws, Public Laws and U.S. Statutes at Large - When a bill is signed into law by the President it is sent to the Office of the Federal Register to be assigned a law number and paginated for the United States Statutes at Large.  Afterwards, a List of Public Laws is created, posted online, and then published in the Federal Register (see below).  Federal laws are initially published as "slip laws" or Public Laws.  The Public Law number refers to the number of Congress and chronological sequence of the law's enactment. For example, PL101-336 refers to the 336th law enacted by the 101st Congress. Public Laws are cumulatively published in the United States Statutes At Large.
Public Laws and Statutes are often split into different parts as they are merged into the United States Code.  Public Laws and Statutes are singular documents in time. The US Code changes over time, as Public Laws and Statutes add or delete content from the US Code. 
– from

United States Statutes at Large - The United States Statutes at Large, commonly referred to as the Statutes at Large, is the official source for the laws and resolutions passed by Congress.  The Statutes at Large are a chronological arrangement of the laws exactly as they have been enacted. The laws are not arranged according to subject matter and do not reflect the present status of an earlier law that has been amended. See also HeinOnline - U.S. Statutes at Large (1789-2007)

Popular Names of Acts in the US Code tool - The Table is an alphabetical list of popular and statutory names of Acts of Congress. The Statutes at Large citation following an entry is to the Act or part of the Act to which the name relates.

Popular Name Tool – government site

U.S. Code - government site - contains a consolidation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States arranged according to subject matter under 50 title headings, largely in alphabetical order.  A U.S. Code citation includes a title number, the abbreviation "USC," and a section number, such as: 23 U.S.C. § 129, for Title 23 of the United States Code, section 129.  The U.S. Code was first published in 1926, and it is completely republished about every six years.  Because of this slow publication process, it is advisable to consult commercially published annotated versions of the U.S. Code, known as USCA.

United States Code: Search tips

Cornell Univ. Law School - U.S. Code search and information -- This is the only online version of the Code that displays search results in context within the code and provides breadcrumbs, links, and other navigation tools. The Updates option identifies if any changes have been made since the publication of the code. Includes the Popular Names of Acts table.


Federal Register (current)  Federal Register (present to 1994) – Official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents, according to USGPO.  Federal Register tutorial


Code of Federal Regulations (beta-electronic) (CFR) - The CFR is updated and published once a year.  The annual edition is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government. Rules are always published first in the FR as amendments to the CFR .  It is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation. The 50 subject matter titles contain one or more individual volumes, which are updated once each calendar year, on a staggered basis.

Executive Orders (1933-present) - Executive orders are official documents, numbered consecutively (includes number-and-letter designated orders, such as 9577-A, 9616-A, etc.), through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the Federal Government, according to NARA.   text of Executive orders appears in the daily Federal Register as each Executive order is signed by the President and received by the Office of the Federal Register. The text of Executive orders beginning with Executive Order 7316 of March 13, 1936, also appears in the sequential editions of Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders

 American State Papers - contain the legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838. The collection includes documents that cover the critical historical gap from 1789 to the printing of the first volume of the U.S. Serial Set in 1817. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set contains House and Senate Reports (recommendations on pending legislation) and House and Senate Documents (communications from the Executive Branch) since the 15th Congress, 1st Session (1817). - Umich --


The U.S. Congressional Serial Set and American State Papers together constitute the archival record of the United States Congress from 1789 to 1994.  From 1994-, GPOAccess U.S. Congressional Serial Setand the Library of Congress THOMAS provide electronic access to many of the recent Serial Set materials.  U.S. Congressional Serial Set, What It Is and Its History and  An overview of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set present good information about the Serial Set.


Throughout the 19th and early 20th Century, it also included the majority of important Executive Branch publications, including the reports of the great explorations, Foreign Relations of the United States, and the Decennial Census.

Annotated Constitution

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) annotated Constitution, with searchable text, presented by Cornell University Law School.  Links are provided to Supreme Court opinions, the U.S. Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations, as well as enhanced navigation through linked footnotes and tables of contents. For example, see congressional districting.


Citation information

Public laws and Statutes at Large citations

Basic legal citation 

Citing & Evaluating Research

 LexisNexis General Principles of Citation



LexisNexis Congressional Advanced (1970-present) or LexisNexis Congressional Basic

To track current and recent historical issues, you can also use, providing access to the following sources: Index and abstracts for congressional committee documents, prints, reports and published hearings, 1970-present, Legislative histories, 1969-present, Committee hearings selected transcripts and full-text statements, 1988-present, Committee prints selected full text, 1993-2004, Committee reports full text, 1990-present, House and Senate documents (electronic versions) full text, 1995-present, GAO report abstracts and PDFs, 2004-present, Congressional Record daily edition, 1985-present, Bill texts and tracking, 1989-present, Public law texts, 1988-present, U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, 1981-present, Federal Register, 1980-present, Campaign finance data, 1987-present, Key votes data, 1987-present, Member financial disclosures, profiles, and voting records,  Political news, including The Hill, 1995-present; Washington Post section A news, 1977-present; and Roll Call, 1989-present, Hot Bills & Hot Topics, and Committee rosters and schedules.

See also LexisNexis Congressional tutorial


Other LexisNexis links include:

Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws – use to search for search for legislative histories, bill tracking reports, bills, voting records, public laws, Statutes at Large, and U.S. Code.

Hot bills & topics - links to bills and news articles related to issues of national importance, bills under consideration or recently enacted, news links grouped by topic area. LexisNexis editors update the site monthly.


THOMAS – Generally referred to as “legislative information from the Library of Congress.” 

According to its website, THOMAS, launched in January of 1995, at the inception of the 104th Congress, makes federal legislative information freely available to the public. Includes information about bills, resolutions and activity in Congress, Congressional Record, schedules, calendars, committee information, presidential nominations and treaties.


Federal Digital System (FDsys) – U.S. Government publications search,

from the U.S. Government Printing Office, provides public access to government information submitted by Congress and Federal agencies and preserved as technology changes.  Includes Federal Register, history of bills, congressional hearings, congressional record, United States Code, Congressional bills, Congressional committee prints, statutes at large, Public Papers of the Presidents, compilation of presidential documents, and much more.  For a more specific search, try FDsys advanced searchFDsys tutorials are also available.


GPOAccess ---  (precursor to FDsys above)

GPO Access is a service of the U.S. Government Printing Office that provides free electronic access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government.

Search or browse official, full-text information from the three branches of the Federal Government. Databases are updated based on their print equivalent and generally date back to 1994.  Use the GPO Access A-Z Resource List provided.


This legal database provides fully-searchable and image-based text of over 500 law journals, a Federal Register Collection and Code of Federal Regulations, United States Code, U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, U.S. Statutes at Large, Supreme Court Library and reports and Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (1965-2009), including HeinOnline Federal Legislative History Library and HeinOnline legislative histories tutorial


A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates - Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774 includes Congressional Record, Bills and Resolutions, Statutes at Large, U.S. Serial Set.


Senate Resources

-Official United States Senate site

-Active Senate/House legislation



House Resources



Biographies and senator/congresspersons backgrounds

-The Almanac of American politics (2010) – PRINT ONLY, available in the Falvey Library reference section and published biennially.  Includes profiles of each state’s senators and congresspersons an overview of each state, its congressional district boundaries, district demographics, last districting information and other state demographics by population household income, age, race/ethnicity education, etc.


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774 – 2005 (House Doc. No. 108-22)


Politics in America 2010 – published every two years by Sage/CQ Press – Congressional member profiles include biographical data, committee assignments, election results, CQ Key Votes, interest group ratings, CQ Vote Studies, and contact information. Detailed descriptions of each member's congressional district as drawn for that term of Congress, including updated maps and voting trends are also included.  This Web site contains profiles of members of the 111th Congress (2009-2010), 110th Congress (2007-2008), 109th Congress (2005- 2007), 108th Congress (2003-2005), 107th Congress (2001-2003), and 106th Congress (1999-2001).