Cite-Checker's Guide: United States Legislative History

  1. Codified Law
  2. Statutes & Legislative Drafts
  3. Legislative History Documents
  4. Compiled Legislative History Sources
  5. Finding Aids
  6. Historical Databases


Codified Law

Annotated United States Codes are the unofficial subject compilations of the federal laws. The statutes are annotated with legislative history notes, case summaries, and citations to treatises and law review articles. The annotated codes are supplemented by annual pocket parts and pamphlet services.

Citation format: 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (Law. Co-op. 2000), or 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 2000).

United States Code is the official subject compilation of all general and permanent laws, compiled by the Law Revision Commission of the US House of Representatives since 1926. The Code is revised every six years and has annual bound supplement volumes.

       Citation format: 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2000).


Statutes & Legislative Drafts

A Bill is a draft of a law introduced in Congress. The numbering reflects where it was introduced, i.e. H.R. ___ (House of Representatives) or S. __ (Senate) and the order in which it was filed with the Clerk. The wording of a bill may change substantially in the legislative process. The text of all versions of bills may be found in the CIS Congressional microfiche set and from 1989- in the web version. More recent bills may be tracked in Lexis, Westlaw, and through the Library of Congress legislative website, Thomas (

       Citation format: H.R. 2998, 107th Cong. (2002).

Public laws / Session laws are terms that can be used synonymously. They are the original, uncodified language of a law enacted by Congress. When a bill is enacted, it is given a public law number, indicating the session of Congress and order of passage. Pub. L. No. 107-148 was enacted on March 11, 2002, the 148th law of the 107th session of Congress. Session laws are compiled and printed in Statutes at Large and the first volumes of United States Code Congressional and Administrative News. They are also found in Lexis, Westlaw, and through the Library of Congress legislative website, Thomas (

       Citation format: Radio Free Afghanistan Act, Pub. L. No. 107-148 (2002).

Statutes at Large is the official compilation of the public laws enacted in a Congressional session, arranged chronologically. The laws are printed in the original and uncodified language. Marginal notes reflect where sections of an act may be codified. The set is available in hardcopy and microfilm.

       Citation format: 116 Stat. 64.


Legislative History Documents

Committee reports are written by the standing committees of the House and Senate. They give a section-by-section analysis of a proposed law. If the House and Senate versions of a bill differ greatly, a joint committee is formed to resolve the differences and a joint committee report is issued. The numbering of a report reflects the House or Senate and session of Congress. The United States Code Congressional and Administrative News reprints the more comprehensive of the committee reports on the enacted bill, and every joint committee report. The CIS Congressional microfiche set contains all reports, from 1989- in the web version (text only). The library keeps a small set of committee reports in paper in the government documents collection.

       Citation format: S. Rep. No. 107-125 (2002).

Committee hearings may be held by congressional committees prior to the enactment of a law. They are usually of investigative nature. They are indexed in the CIS Congressional set and are available in microfiche; 1992- in the web version (text only).

       Citation format: Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989: Hearings Before the Comm. on the Judiciary, and the Subcomm. on Civil and Constitutional Rights, House of Representatives, 101st Cong. 40 (1989) (statement of James Brady, Vice Chairman, National Organization on Disability).

Committee prints may be prepared on specific subjects for congressional committees. They are often compilations of legislation or statistical studies. Because they are intended for reference use by the committee members, their access and distribution is limited. They are found in the CIS Congressional microfiche; 1993- in the web version (text only); and on the GPO Access website, Congressional Committee Prints (105th Congress --) (

       Citation format: 2 Staff of the House Committee on Education and Labor, 101st Cong., Legis. Hist. of Pub. L. No. 101-336: The Americans with Disabilities Act, 100th Cong. 2d Sess. 1040 (Comm. Print 1990).

Congressional Record is the official record of debates, proceedings and activities of Congress. The page-numbering reflects the House or Senate. It is published for each day that the Congress is in session. It is available in bound volumes and microfilm, in full text in Lexis and Westlaw, CIS Congressional (1985-), and in PDF format from 1994- on the Library of Congress website Thomas ( and GPO Access (

       Citation format: 126 Cong. Rec. H6456 (daily ed. July 24, 1980)

Annals of Congress is the earliest precursor to the Congressional Record and covers the years, 1789-1837.  It is available in microfilm and in a full-text searchable PDF format on the Library of Congress website: Century of American Lawmaking: Annals of Congress (

       Citation format: 38 Annals of Cong. 624 (1822)

Congressional Globe preceded the Congressional Record and was published between 1837-1873. It is available in microfilm and in full-text, searchable PDF format on the Library of Congress website Century of American Lawmaking: Congressional Globe (

       Citation format: Cong. Globe, 36th Cong., 1st Sess. 1672 (1860)


Compiled Legislative History Sources

United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) has been published annually since 1941 by West. The set contains the reprints of the public laws (reflecting the Statutes at Large pagination) and committee reports for the more important legislation. Cross-references to the Senate and House bills and the Congressional Record appear. It is the most common starting point for compiling a legislative history. It is not comprehensive.

       Citation format: H.R. Rep. No. 102-40(l), at 66 (1991), reprinted in 1991 U.S.C.C.A.N. 549, 604.

LexisNexis Congressional is both a finding aid and source for the full text (not PDF) of congressional documents, including bills, public laws, committee reports, committee hearings and prints, and the Congressional Record. Searching compiled legislative histories (1969-) by subject, popular name, public law or Statutes at Large citation is possible. Available from the Indexes & Databases page. The full-text records found here are generally not suitable for citation purposes.

CIS Legislative Histories (1970-present) are available on Lexis and through LexisNexis Congressional on the Indexes & Databases page. They are also indexed in bound volumes in the library as part of the CIS Annual series, from 1984-current, at NYUL KA-A 29, in the Media Center; full text is on microfiche.


Finding Aids

CIS Index is a searchable database of bibliographic records for congressional documents, including committee reports, hearings, and the Congressional Record from 1970 to the present. These bibliographic records are searchable through Julius, the library's catalog, and in a web version from LexisNexis Congressional available from the Indexes & Databases page (access limited - must be used onsite), and through Lexis. The records refer to the microfiche collection.

Popular Name Tables are found in the US Code, USCA and USCS. Entries for laws commonly known by the sponsor or subject of an act, i.e. the Brady Bill, the Lemon Law, Megan's Law or the Taft-Hartley Act. The entries list the original passage of the act, codification and amendments.


Historical Databases

CIS Historical Index is a searchable database of bibliographic records for historical congressional documents, from 1789-1980. It is available on Lexis and LexisNexis Congressional, available from the Indexes & Databases page. The records refer to the microfiche collection of documents. These records are searchable in the library's catalog, Julius, as well as in bound volumes in the media center.

LexisNexis U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection will contain the full text of the US Congressional Serical Set and American State Papers, 1789-1969. The database will be completed by December 2005 and currently contains documents from 1817 to 1880 (15th-48th Congresses) in PDF format. Available through LexisNexis Congressional, on the Indexes & Databases page.

A Century of Lawmaking is the Library of Congress digital collection of congressional documents and debates, 1774-1873. It includes documents from the Continental Congress, Senate and House Journals, Elliot's Debates, Farrand's Records, the Annals of Congress, Congressional Globe and the Serial Set. These documents appear in PDF format and are suitable for citation purposes. These is a search engine for full text searching. A Century of Lawmaking (

For further information see How Our Laws are Made by the Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives and the Law Librarians' Society of the District of Columbia's Legislative Source Book.

This page was updated August 16, 2007