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Political Science 418: Legal Research & Writing: Federal Legislation/Legislative History

Federal Legislation

Public Laws are enacted legislation (bills that survive the legislative process) identified by the number of the Congressional session and a sequential number, e.g., P.L. 113-1 is the first enacted public legislation by the 113rd Congress. Private laws are numbered separately and are rare. Both are issued first as separate "slip laws" and then reprinted in sequential (chronological) order in the United States Statutes at Large (Stat.), the "session laws" for each legislative session. Access online:

1st-81st Congress (1789-1951) via Law Library of Congress

82nd-current Congress (1951-current) via Government Publishing Office's Govinfo.gov: Browse by Congressional session or Search by selecting "Statutes at Large" as the collection

1776-current via Nexis Uni

The content of public legislation is fit into relevant subject titles of the official, government-printed federal code, the United States Code (U.S.C.), so that all current legislation on the same topic is gathered together, but this is a lengthy process. Each piece of legislation can add new language, delete existing language, renumber sections, or any combination of these. Two well-known, privately-published (unofficial) versions of the U.S.C. are United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.). Access online:

Legislative History

Documents produced during the legislative process can be useful for understanding Congressional intent or clarifying statutory language. These documents include bill(s), amendments, debates, and committee publications (hearings, prints, documents, reports). The ProQuest Congressional database "Help" provides an explanation of the legislative process and the documents produced.

Search tips for ProQuest databases are below.

ProQuest Search Tips

Use these commands when searching ProQuest databases:

AND requires both search words to appear, e.g., clinton AND trump

OR allows either or both search words to appear, e.g., clinton OR trump

NOT excludes a word, e.g., clinton NOT trump

Use " " around an exact phrase, e.g., "electoral college"

An asterisk (*) on a word stem accepts any endings, e.g., politic* will find politics, political, politician, etc.

ProQuest automatically searches within full text, so you may want to use some "proximity" commands between search words to control how far apart they can be:

NEAR/# requires search words to be within your specified # number of words of each other, e.g., campaign* NEAR/5 president*

Use () to group OR'd words in a complex search also containing AND, e.g., (campaign* OR debate* OR speech*) AND (clinton OR trump) AND immigra*