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Federal Legislative History Research: Beginning Your Legislative History Research

These resources and materials can be used to begin a legislative history research project. If you have any difficulty locating or utilizing the resources below, please contact a reference librarian.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Federal Legislative Research

The goal of a legislative history project is typically to locate Congressional working papers that will cast some light on the legislative intent behind the use of a particular phrase, sentence or section of a statute.  

Begin this research by identifying which Congress actually added the language in question to the statute.  Because statutes often have been amended a number of times, it's important that you correctly identify the appropriate act. The annotated federal statutory sets (United States Code Service and United States Code Annotated) (available in print and online) provide references after most code sections. These references can usually be found after the text of the statute in parenthesis and also after the Historical and Statutory Notes section. The USCS is also available on LexisNexis. The USCA is available through Westlaw.

Before you begin your research, you should know:
   •    The public law citation or the Statutes at Large citation (e.g. P.L. 95-504; 92 Stat. 1705)
   •    The bill number and Congress of the Act or Resolution (e.g. H.R. 12611 from the 95th Congress)

If all you have is the popular name of the statute (e.g. Airline Deregulation Act), you need to find the Public Law and Statutes at Large citation.  Sources for this information include:  

    Legal Information Institute’s (LII) Popular Names Table (online);
 Popular Names Table (available online and in print) included with:
     United States Code (LAW-Reference Range 2C),
     United States Code Annotated (LAW-Reference Range 2B); or the
    United States Code Service (LAW-Reference Range 2B-2C).

If you are unsure about which Congress or year your law was passed, you may find it helpful to use the table of Years of Congress Conversion Table.

Pegeen Mulhern

Pegeen Mulhern
Call the reference desk at 206.398.4225

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