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Finding Existing Legislative Histories

The starting point for compiling a federal legislative history of an enacted law is the statute's Public Law number. Public law numbers have been used to identify enacted legislation since 1957, and consist of two numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g., "Pub. L. No. 104-227" or "P.L. 104-227"). The first number indicates the session of Congress in which the law was passed and the second number represents the order in which the law was passed during that session.

Sample Citation: "Pub. L. No. 104-227" refers to the 227th law passed during the 104th Congress.

Legislative histories can also be prepared for failed bills that were never passed into law or current legislation that is still under consideration by Congress. In these cases, there will not be a public law number, and you will need to rely on a bill or resolution number.

If you know the citation, use the citation to the code (e.g., 16 U.S.C. 2401) to locate the codified version of the law through either Westlaw or LexisNexis, or the print versions of U.S.C., U.S.C.A., or U.S.C.S., and then look for the public law citation in the parenthetical or "Credits" or "History" section following the main text of the statute. Note that the codified version of a statute may include language from multiple pieces of legislation passed at different times, such as amendments. Consequently, there may be references to more than one public law number. You will need to select the appropriate public law number for your purposes based on information such as the date of the legislation in which you are interested.

If you only know the name of the legislation (e.g., the "Antarctic Science, Tourism, and Conservation Act of 1996"), consult a Popular Name index, which will indicate the statute's public law number.  The U.S.C., U.S.C.A., and U.S.C.S. all have a Popular Name index, as does the Cornell Legal Information InstititueWestlaw, and LexisNexis.  Similarly, Westlaw or LexisNexis keyword searching in the USCA or USCS databases, or the U.S.C., U.S.C.A., or U.S.C.S. general indexes, including Westlaw's USCA-IDX database, will allow you to locate codified statutes on a particular topic, from which you can find relevant public law citations.

Statutes at Large is the official compilation of federal session laws. The first number of a Statutes at Large citation indicates the volume number, and the second number indicates the page number of that volume where the text of the statute begins. A Statutes at Large citation is usually not as helpful in preparing a legislative history as the law's public law number, but you should still note it because Statutes at Large is the best place to find both the full text of a law in its uncodified form and the law's bill number.

Sample citation: "110 Stat. 3035" refers to Volume 10, page 3035.

Statutes at Large is available in the following locations:

Once you have determined the Public Law number, you should check to see if someone else has already prepared a legislative history of the law. Published legislative histories exist for hundreds of laws, especially major pieces of legislation such as ERISA, CERCLA, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These legislative histories vary in quality, but should provide you with an overview of the legislation and an idea of what legislative history materials are available with respect to your law.

Finding Legislative Histories Online

There are a few different methods that you can use to find existing legislative histories. The first is to check the compiled legislative histories available on LLSDC's list, Westlaw, LexisNexis, and HeinOnline.

Finding Legislative Histories in Print

Additional legislative histories can be found using a bibliography of published legislative histories.

If you find an existing legislative history for your law in a bibliography, consult the library catalog to determine if the Library owns the relevant title and where it is located. Even if the item is not owned by the University, you should be able to borrow it via inter-library loan.

The library catalog can also be used to search for other published legislative histories not listed in exiting bibliographies. A good technique is to search by the name of the act in the "Title" or "Title + Title in Contents" fields, or to search for the topic "Legislative Histories - United States" in the "Subject" field. You should also check to see if there are any law review articles that discuss the legislative history of your statute. An easy way to do this is to search for the name of the statute in an electronic periodical index such as LegalTrac (conduct a "Subject Guide" search), or the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (search in the "Statute" field).

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