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Government: Law & Legislation

Federal laws impact many aspects of daily life. Laws are created through the legislative process, and can be changed. Knowledge of the history and current status of legislation is important for researching social, economic, and political issues.

Types of Law

Statutory Law
Refers to the bills that are proposed, and the laws originating from those bills that are passed by Congress.
Administrative
Also known as Regulatory Law. The rules and regulations issued by departments or agencies of the Federal government so it can, in its role as the Executive branch of government, enforce the law (the Constitution and statutes).
Case Law
Also known as Judicial Law. Law which originates in the court system to examine the validity of laws as they relate to the Constitution, existing law, or legal precedent.
Constitutional Law
Pertains to the United States Constitution and its amendments. For more details on the Constitution see The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (browse the list of Additional Government Publications to find The Constitution...).
Treaties
Treaties, whether bilateral or multilateral, also have the force of U.S. law once they are ratified by the Senate.

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Legislative Process

Congress proposes bills or makes resolutions, and passes laws. An elected Congress lasts two (2) years; it is divided into two (2) sessions, one for each year; e.g. 111th Congress, 1st Session, 2nd Session. For details, see List of All Session Dates and Years or the GPO Grid of Congress and Session Years.

Abbreviations that are used for Congressional legislative documents are as follows:

H. R. House of Representatives
S. Senate
H.J. Res. House Joint Resolution
S.J. Res. Senate Joint Resolution
H. Con. Res. House Concurrent Reolution
S. Con. Res. Senate Concurrent Resolution
H. Res. House Resolution
S. Res. Senate Resolution

The entire legislative process from a proposed bill through a published law is called the 'Legislative History'.

  1. The first bill for that Session is numbered '1', e.g. 111th Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 1.
  2. A bill will often have a short title, a working descriptive title, e.g. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
  3. A bill is examined, and modified, by Congressional committees who issue 'Reports' to accompany the bill.
  4. Debates on a bill in Congress are reported in the Congressional Record.
  5. If a bill is passed by both houses of Congress it then goes to the President to sign into law.
  6. Sometimes a bill goes to a conference of senators and representatives who settle differences between two versions of a bill; they issue 'Conference Reports'.
  7. When a bill is approved it becomes a Public Law, designated by numbered Congress and a running number; e.g. Public Law 111-5 (111th Congress, 5th law), and printed as a paper booklet.
  8. Public Laws are later compiled in bound series called the United States Statutes at Large.

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Statutory Law

The primary sources for the legislative history, the legislative documents themselves at different stages of their development, can be located in numerous ways. For more information, see Basic Overview on How Federal Laws Are Published, Organized and Cited. For how Congress works, see Understanding Congress: A Citizen's Guide from the Center on Congress at Indiana University. The live proceedings of Congress have been televised since 1987 on C-SPAN and are available via the C-SPAN Video Library Current video of Congress is available at C-SPAN.

American State Papers

Government documents that pre-date the Serial Set have been compiled as the American State Papers.

American State Papers
Also available from the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
American State Papers, 1789-1838 (Century of Lawmaking)
The digitized full-text available through the Library of Congress' American Memory Project.
State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States (J33 .W3 10v.)
Printed 10 volume set with material from the years 1789-1815.

U. S. Congressional Serial Set

The University of Wooster Library has a useful United States Congressional Serial Set Finding List.

Schedule of Volumes to the U.S. Serial Set: 1970 to Current
Available from Law Librarians Society of Washington, D.C. The Serial Set is also available through a subscription for Proquest Congressional's U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection or for Readex's U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994: An Archive of Americana Collection.
United States Congressional Serial Set
Selected digitized full-text available from the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
U. S. Congressional Serial Set
FDsys provides access to the indexes (1957- ) to the contempoary Congressional Serial Set.
U. S. Serial Set, 1833-1917 (Century of Lawmaking)
Includes selected digitized documents from the Serial Set through the Library of Congress' American Memory project.

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Congressional Calendars, Documents, Hearings, Prints, Reports

Congressional Calendars
FDsys contains the Calendars of the United States House of Representatives and History of Legislation and the Senate Calendar of Business, (1995- ).
Congressional Committee Prints
"Publications issued by Congressional Committees that include topics related to their legislative or research activities, as well as other matters such as memorial tributes. The prints are an excellent resource for statistical and historical information, and for legislative analysis." Available from FDsys. Also available for subscription from Proquest's Congressional Research Digital Collection (CRDC).
Congressional Documents
FDsys provides full-text access to contemporary documents (1995- ).
Congressional Hearings
FDsys provides full-text access to contemporary hearings (1995- ). Selected hearings are available in digitized format by searching the Hathi Trust Digital Library, as well as the United States House and Senate Committee Hearings and Publications from the University of New Orleans Federal Documents Collection. Also, available for subscription from Proquest's Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, (1824- ).
Congressional Reports.
FDsys provides full-text access to contemporary reports (1995- ).
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports
Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a division of the Library of Congress that produces well-researched reports for Congress on any issue relevant to Congress. CRS Reports are not made directly available to the public except via members of Congress. An overview of the availability of CRS Reports can be found at the University of Washington's Gallagher Law Library. Selected reports are available from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and Open CRS. Reports are available for subscription from Proquest's Congressional Research Digital Collection (CRDC), and published commercially by the Penny Hill Press.

Bills and Resolutions

Bills and Resolutions (Century of Lawmaking)
Historical bills and resolutions are available from the Library of Congress' American Memory project.
Bills, Resolutions (Thomas).
Library of Congress' Thomas provides access to contemporary bills and resolutions (Date- ).
Digest of Public General Bills and Resolutions (1936-1990)
Historical bills and resolutions are also available from the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
Digital U.S. Bills and Resolutions 1789-2013.
Both historical and contemporary bills and resolutions are available for subscription via Proquest Congressional.
History of Bills (FDsys)
FDsys provides access, (Date- ).

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Congressional Debates and the Congressional Record

Annals of Congress, 1789-1824
Microform set is available (Media Ctr. Microfilm).
Register of Debates in Congress, 1824-1837
Microform set is available (Media Ctr. Microfilm)>
Congressional Globe, 1833-1873
Microform set is available (Media Ctr. Microfilm)
Congressional Record
Microform set is available (Media Ctr. Microfiche 1986-2000). Also available at Congressional Record (FDsys) (1994- ), and at Congressional Record (Thomas) (1989- ). Also available for subscription from Proquest Congressional's Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection (1789-1999).
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Printed set of 34 volumes is available (KF4505 .U55 1968). Also available from LLMC Digital.

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Public Laws, Statutes at Large

Public and Private Laws (FDsys)
Available from FDsys, (1995- ).
Public Laws (LexisNexis Academic)
Also available through Lexis, (1988- ). Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal Statutes, Codes, Regulations >Public Laws).
Public Laws (Thomas)
Available from Library of Congress' Thomas, (1973- ).
Complete Collection of United States Statutes at Large
From the Constitution Society, (1789-2007).
Statutes at Large, 1789-1875 (Century of Lawmaking)
From the Library of Congress' American Memory project. Includes the Revised Statutes of the United States (vol. 18, 43rd, 1873-1875) which reflected the then current law still in existence in 1875.
United States Statutes at Large (Ref. Alcove 3 KF50 .U455, v.53-123, 1939-2009).
"Typically referred to as the Statutes at Large, is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress" (FDsys). Also available in microform, (Media Ctr. Microfiche MI 2001, v.50-77, 1937-1963). Available at United States Statutes at Large (FDsys) (1951- ), and at U.S. Statutes at Large (LLMC Digital) (1789- ).

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U.S. Code

Annotated U.S. Code (LexisNexis Academic)
Available through Lexis, (1988- ). Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal Statutes, Codes, Regulations >Annotated U.S. Code.
United States Code (Ref. Alcove 3 KF62 .A2 2006, 2007-2011 supplements)
Published every six years. Available at United States Code (FDsys) (1994- ), U.S. Code (U.S House of Representatives) (1994- ), and U.S. Code (Cornell University Law School) (Current edition).
United States Code: Popular Names and Classification Tables
Resources to make using the Code easier include: United States Code Popular Name Tool (Law Revision Counsel) or the Popular Names of Acts in the US Code (Cornell), and the United States Code Classification Tables (Law Revision Counsel).

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Administrative Law

The General Service Administration's "Regulatory Information Service Center and the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) have established the Reginfo.gov website to assist users who want to find federal regulatory information." This includes the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, "a semiannual compilation of information about regulations under development by federal agencies." The general public can comment on proposed regulations at Regulations.gov.

CFR (LexisNexis Academic)
Most recent Code of Federal Regulations is also available through Lexis. Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal Statutes, Codes & Regulations >CFR - Code of Federal Regulations.
Code of Federal Regulations (Ref. Alcove 3 KF5401 .A33)
Known as CFR it is the "codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government...divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to Federal regulation" (FDsys). Available at Code of Federal Regulations - CFR (FDsys) (1996- ), and at CFR (Cornell University Law School) (Current edition).
Federal Register (Daily Journal of the United States Government)
"Official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents" (FDsys). Available in microform and print as follows: (Media Ctr. Microfilm, v.1-29, 1936-1964), (Media Ctr. Microfiche, v.51-65, 1986-2000), (Periodicals KF70 .A2, v.73-76, 2008-2011. Available at Federal Register (FDsys) (1994- ).
Federal Register (LexisNexis Academic)
Most recent Register is also available through Lexis. Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal Statutes, Codes & Regulations >Federal Register.

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Case Law

Federal court cases begin in District Trial Courts. If there is an appeal they proceed through the Circuit Court of Appeals, and then on to the Supreme Court if the court agrees to hear the case. The Federal court system adheres to Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure. The rules are reproduced at Cornell's Federal Rules of evidence and procedure. Below are the resources one can use to access the court cases at their various levels.

U.S. District Trial Courts

Federal Reporter
Citation abbreviation is 'F.' Includes decisions of the federal district and appellate courts, (1880-1924), OCLC: 17468816. Also, F. and F.2d. combined 1880-1988, OCLC: 1569008.
Federal Reporter (LLMC Digital)
Available from LLMC Digital, (1880-1924).
Federal Supplement
Citation abbreviation is 'F. Supp.' Includes [selected] decisions of the federal district courts, (1933-1988), OCLC: 1569040.
Federal Supplement, Second Series
Citation abbreviation is 'F. Supp. 2d'. Also known as West's Federal Supplement. Includes [selected] decisions of the federal district courts, (1988- ), OCLC: 17592467.
PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records)
Free from the United States Courts system, but registration is required.
Public Library of Law (PLOL)
Cases available for Federal Circuit Courts (1950- ).
United States Courts Opinions (FDsys)
Opinions from selected U.S. District Courts are available (2004- ).
U.S. District Court Cases, Combined (LexisNexis Academic)
"Contains all case law from United States District Courts for all 50 States from 1789 to current." Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal and State Cases >Jurisdiction >All U.S. District Courts.
WestLaw Next
Available via subscription from Thomson Reuters.

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U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Federal Reporter
Citation abbreviation is 'F.' Includes decisions of the federal district and appellate courts, (1880-1924), OCLC: 17468816. Also, F. and F.2d. combined 1880-1988, OCLC: 1569008.
Federal Reporter (LLMC Digital)
Available from LLMC Digital, (1880-1924).
Federal Reporter, Second Series
Citation abbreviation is 'F.2d'. Includes decisions of the appellate courts, (1925-1988), OCLC: 22693775. Also, F. and F.2d. combined 1880-1988, OCLC: 1569008.
Federal Reporter, Third Series
Citation abbreviation is 'F.3d'. Also known as West's Federal Reporter. Includes decisions of the appellate courts, (1988- ). OCLC: 17592295.
PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records)
Free from the United States Courts system, but registration is required.
Public Library of Law (PLOL)
Cases available for Courts of Appeals (1997- ).
United States Courts Opinions (FDsys)
Opinions from selected U.S. Courts of Appeals are available (2004- ).
U.S. Courts of Appeals Cases, Combined (LexisNexis Academic
Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal and State Cases >Jurisdiction >All U.S. Courts of Appeals.
WestLaw Next
Available via subscription from Thomson Reuters.

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U.S. Supreme Court

For more information, see Where to Obtain Supreme Court Opinions.

Public Library of Law (PLOL)
Cases available for the U.S. Supreme Court (1754- ).
Supreme Court Reporter
Citation abbreviation is 'S.Ct.' Published by West, OCLC: 1897540 (1882-1984), and continued by West's Supreme Court Reporter, OCLC: 18458017 (1984- ). Available at Supreme Court Reporter (LLMC Digital) (1882- ).
United States Reports
Citation abbreviation is 'U.S.' The official court reporter of Supreme Court cases. PDFs of the 'bound volumes' are available from the Supreme Court website. Supreme Court Web, Case Citation Finder is available (1992- ). United States Reports is also available in the printed edition: (Ref. Alcove 3 KF101.1 .U44, v.1-351 in Lawyer's ed., v.352-553, 1754-2007). Also available in microform: (Ref. Microfiche, v.1-553, 1801-2008).
United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition
Citation abbreviation is 'U.S.L.Ed.' Published by Lawyers' Cooperative/Lexis. Available in printed edition: (Ref. Alcove 3 KF101.1 .U441, v.1- , 1956- ).
U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Lawyers' Edition (LexisNexis Academic)
"Contains the full text opinions of all Supreme Court Lawyers' Edition cases since 1790. In addition, all dispositions of cases that were appealed to the Supreme Court are included." Use the following internal path within Lexis: >US Legal >Federal and State Cases >Jurisdiction >U.S. Supreme Court.
WestLaw Next
Available via subscription from Thomson Reuters.

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Treaties

Congressional Documents (FDsys)
Contains Senate Treaty Documents, (1994- ).
Electronic Information System for International Law (EISIL)
International law treaties organized and provided by the American Society for International Law.
Statutes at Large
Until 1950 treaties were published in the Statutes.
Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States, 1776-1949 (Ref. JX236 1968 .A5 13v.)
Bevans, Charles, editor. (Washington, Dept. of State, USGPO, 1968-1976). Also available via LLMC Digital.
Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS)
First official recorder of U.S. treaties and international agreements. Issued by the U.S. State Department in slip form. Also available in the subscription database HeinOnline.
Treaties in Force (JX 235.9 .A33 1955-56; 1958-85; 1987-90; 1992-2011)
Annual which lists treaties to which the United States is a party. Also available via LLMC Digital, (1955- ).
Treaties (Thomas)
Database can be browsed by Congress number or topic, or searched by treaty number or keyword (1967- ).
United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (JX 231 .A34 v.1-35, 1950-1983/84)
The official recorder of U.S. treaties and international agreements. Known as UST, (1950- ), published volumes have a twenty-year lag time. Also available via LLMC Digital (1950-1984). Also available in the subscription database HeinOnline.

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Presidential Documents

American Presidency Project
"The American Presidency Project contains the most comprehensive collection of resources pertaining to the study of the President of the United States." From the University of California, Santa Barbara (1999- ).
CIS Index to U.S. Executive Branch Documents...
See Publications - 'Retrospective Supplements to the Catalog' in this guide for the historical CIS Indexes to United States Executive Branch Documents which cover 1789-1932.
Compilation of Messages and Papers of Presidents, 1789-1897
Available at the Hathi Trust Digital Library in the 'Bureau of National Literature' edition.
Code of Federal Regulations (FDsys)
CFR, 'Title 3 - The President', contains proclamations and executive orders and is published as a continuous supplementary Title.
Compilation of Presidential Documents (FDsys)
(1993- ).
Federal Register (FDsys)
Federal Register contains the first appearance of presidential documents and executive orders before they are added to the CFR (1994- ).
Presidential Libraries
Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (Ref. J80 .A283 1929- )
Also available at Public Papers of the Presidents (FDsys) (1991- ), and at Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (University of Michigan Digital Library) (1929- ).
Whitehouse.gov
Current public papers and speeches, executive orders, proclamations, compilations, and other communications.

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