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Government Documents - Congress, Laws, and Legislation: Laws & Legislation

This guide provides information about how to find laws, legislative history, U.S. Congressional publications, and the publications of Congressional agencies.

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Sources for laws and legislation

To read the text of a law as it was originally passed by Congress, consult the Statutes at Large of the United States of America (STAT). Free access to Statutes at Large from the 1st through 81st Congress is available from the Law Library of Congress. Volumes from the 82nd Congress (1951) to the present are also available in Govinfo.gov. The complete Statutes at Large from the 1st Congress through the present is available electronically in HeinOnline (UHM login required). Printed copies are available in the Government Documents Collection under call no. AE 2.111: You can find laws using either the Statutes at Large citation or the Public Law number, or you can search by subject or title.

Photo of statutes at large volumes

Private laws are laws passed by Congress that only affect one individual or entity and do not have general applicability. Most private laws cover these situations:

  • Hardship immigration cases
  • Claims, such as claims for monetary damages or the awarding of pension benefits
  • Military justice and the correction of military service records

Private laws are of most interest to genealogy researchers. Copies of private laws can be found in the Statutes at Large. In addition, consult House and Senate reports on private bills for additional correspondence and related materials.

Free access to Statutes at Large from the 1st through 81st Congress is available from the Law Library of Congress. Volumes from the 82nd Congress (1951) to the present are also available in Govinfo.gov. The complete Statutes at Large from the 1st Congress through the present is available electronically in HeinOnline (UHM login required). Printed copies are available in the Government Documents Collection under call no. AE 2.111: You can find laws using either the Statutes at Large citation or the Private Law number, or you can search by subject or title.

There are several ways to look for Congressional bills:

  1. Search for the bill in Congress.gov (93rd Congress (1973)-present)
  2. Search for the bill in govinfo (103rd Congress (1993)-present)
  3. Look in the Congressional Record using HeinOnline (UHM login required) for the text or a summary
  4. Use the Digest of Public General Bills and Resolutions (print, 1980-1987; online, 1936-1990 in LLMC (UHM login required))
  5. Use ProQuest Congressional (UHM login required) to search for hearings, reports, or documents that might contain the text of the bill.
  6. Use U.S. Congressional Serial Set (UHM login required) to search for reports or documents that might contain the text of the bill.
  7. We have a partial collection of bills on microfiche covering the 96th Congress (1979)-106th Congress (2000) (Y 1.4/X:).
  8. We can also request copies of bills dating back to 1789 through interlibrary loan.
  9. Drafts of bills can be found in the congressional papers of the member who introduced the legislation.

The United States Code (USC) is the codification of United States laws -- in other words, the laws are arranged by subject, and amendments are incorporated into the text of existing laws. It is published every six years and is updated with supplements. Printed copies are available in Government Documents under call no. Y 1.2/5: USC is also availabe electronically:

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Researching legislative history

Legislative histories consist of the bills, documents, reports, committee prints, committee hearings, floor debate in Congress, voting records, and presidential statements associated with the passage of a law. Researchers typically use them to determine legislative intent. The Government Documents Collection, the main collection in Hamilton Library, and the William S. Richardson School of Law Library all have many legislative histories in print and microfiche. Search for them using OneSearch.

Refer to the Published legislative histories tab for more sources. If you can't find a compiled legislative history for a law, you can do your own research to find documents associated with its passage. Ask a librarian for assistance with finding legislative histories.


Examples of searches:

Keyword: "legislative history" + the title of the law, e.g., "Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990" and "legislative history"

Subject: United States. Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

 

Cover of Legislative history of .08 per se laws

Additional sources of legislative histories:

HeinOnline (UHM login required) has a legislative history library with full-text compilations. Search by popular name, title of the law, or public law number.

ProQuest Congressional (UHM login required) also has many legislative histories for laws passed from 1970 to the present; some are in full text.

Legislative histories compiled by the Department of Justice staff

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Subject Guide

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Gwen Sinclair
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