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Legal Research Guide: Statutory Law

Federal Codes and Statutes

Federal Statutory Law Wordle Image

 

Statutory laws are written laws that are enacted by an legislative body.  Statutory laws differ from regulatory, administrative, and common law.  Regulatory or administrative laws are passed by executive agencies. Common law is generated through court decisions.  A law begins as a bill which is proposed in the legislature and voted upon.  The proposed bill can go through several hearings, edits, and votes before being approved.  These processes become the law's legislative history and can be very useful information when determining a law's foundation and purpose.

Once approved by both houses of the legislature, the bill passes to the executive branch and if signed, passes into law as a statute.  If the executive declines to sign the bill it can be vetoed and returned to the legislature.  In many cases, if the legislature passes the bill a second time by a particular margin, it becomes a statute.

Federal statutes are published in each of the following formats:

 

  • Slip Laws:  Slip laws are individual newly enacted laws.  Each slip law contains a single statute.  These are either public laws which affect society as a whole, or private laws which affect an individual, family, or small group.  All newly enacted legislation is first published as a slip law. Public laws are then printed by public law number in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News.  On a monthly basis, these new laws are published in advance sheets in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News and then bound into volumes at the conclusion of each session of Congress. 

 

  • Session Laws:  Session laws are the official compilations of slip laws of each session on Congress . They are published in the United States Statues at Large.  Both public and private laws are printed in the Statutes at Large.

 

  • Codified Law: Codified laws (subject compilations of statutes) are printed in the United States Code. While editions of the Code are printed every six years, there are annual supplements released each year.  The United States Code is organized into 53 subject titles.

Federal laws are given a number by the United States Congress that passed it.  This applies to both public and private laws.  The first number corresponds to the Congress that passed the law.  The second number represents the chronological order of passage.  For example, Pub. L. No. 115-25  is the 25th law passed by the 115th Congress. After being passed, the law will be codified or published by subject.  Therefore, Public Law 115-25 can be found in the United States Code at 15 U.S.C. § 8501 et seq. 

Statues at Large Citations refer to the volume the statute is published within and the page number where the text of the statute begins.  Therefore, 106 Stat. 28 is located in volume 106, page 28 of the Statutes at Large.

In the United States Code, statutes are given a title and section number.  Therefore, 21 U.S.C. § 126 will be located in section 126 of title 21 of the United States Code.

Law Type Description
Public Laws

After the President signs a bill into law, it is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where it is assigned a law number, legal statutory citation (public laws only), and prepared for publication as a slip law.  At the end of each session of Congress, the slip laws are compiled into bound volumes called the Statutes at Large, and they are known as "session laws." The Statutes at Large present a chronological arrangement of the laws in the exact order that they have been enacted.

Statutes at Large

The Statutes at Large are a permanent record of all of the laws passed in each legislative session.  They are the official compilation of federal session laws.  The Statutes at Large are a chronological arrangement of the laws exactly as they have been enacted. The laws are not arranged according to subject matter but will later be codified into the official code arranged by subject matter.

United States Code

The United States Code contains a consolidation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States arranged according to subject matter under 50 title headings, largely in alphabetical order. It sets out the current status of the laws, as amended, without repeating all the language of the amendatory acts except where necessary.

The United States Code (U.S.C.) is the official version of the codified federal statutes.  The two unofficial versions of the code published by commercial vendors are the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.).  The annotated versions of the code include search tools including indexes, case citations, and name tables which can be helpful locator tools. 

 

Where to Find Federal Codes and Statutes in Print

 

REF KF62 .U5:  Comprises all laws of a general and permanent nature under arrangement of the official Code of laws of the United States, with annotations from Federal and State courts. The annotations given are historical notes, law library references, and notes on decisions pertaining to the particular laws.

REF KF48 .U5: Contains public laws, legislative history, proclamations, executive messages and orders, administrative regulations, lists of committees, indexes & tables, for each session of Congress.

REF KF50 .U5: The United States Statutes at Large, prepared by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, provide a permanent collection of the laws of each session of Congress in bound volumes. Contains all of the public laws, reorganization plans, private laws, and concurrent resolutions and proclamations of the United States arranged chronologically. A subject index is included within each volume.

X 1.1/A: (Government Documents) Published by the Government Printing office, the Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress.  Following each day that Congress is in session, the proceedings are printed in the Congressional Record and are available the following morning.

REF J69 .C6: The Congressional Index gives you weekly information on congressional activities. It's published at the beginning of each Congress and updated with new material throughout the following two years. With the Congressional Index, you can keep track of Congress' activities.

 

Where to find Federal Codes and Statutes Online

 

  • United States Code: FDsys and HeinOnline (link below)

 

  • United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.): WESTLAW - Under the Federal Materials tab

 

  • United States Statutes at Large: WESTLAW - Under the Federal Materials tab > Federal Proposed & Enacted Legislation > U.S. Public Laws and HeinOnline

 

 

 

TIP: Using the popular names table in the United States Code can help you locate statues by popular name in order to find their slip law, U.S. Code and Statutes at Large citations. In addition, United States Code citations for public laws are located in the page margins of the statutes both in slip laws and in the Statutes at Large.

 

 

 

 

 

Legislative history encompasses each of the legislative progresses of a bill goes through during its journey to becoming a statute.  Every official action the Legislature takes regarding the statute becomes part of its legislative history. A proposed bill can go through several hearings, edits, and votes before being approved.  These processes (as well as the accompanying documents generated therein or bills introduced in subsequent Legislatures that amend or repeal the statute) become a law's legislative history and can be very useful information when determining the law's foundation and purpose.

STEPS:

  1. Identify the Statutes at Large citation (131 Stat. 91) public law number (Pub. L. No. 115-25) , as well as the bill number and Congress of the Act or Resolution (H.R. 353 from the 115th Congress).  
  2. Using the popular name of the statute, use the popular names table of the United States Code or the United States Code Annotated to locate the public law and Statues at Large citation.  You will see bill numbers on the first page of each statute in the Statutes at Large.
  • NOTE: There are some reference sources you can consult to determine if there has already been a compiled legislative history for the law you are searching (See also below):
    • Johnson, N. P (2014). Sources of compiled legislative histories: A bibliography of government documents, periodical articles, and books, 1st Congress - 113th Congress. Buffalo: Hein. (REF KF42.2 2014).
    • McKinney, R.J. (2005). Federal legislative history research: A practitioner's guide to compiling the documents and sifting for legislative intent. Washington, D.C.: Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. (KF49 .R4 M35 2005).
    • Reams, B.D. (1994). Federal legislative histories: an annotated bibliography and index to officially published sources.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. (REF KF42.2 .F42 1994).
    • HeinOnline: United States Federal Histories Library (link below).

 

Legislative History Resources

 

Source Description
ProQuest Congressional Indexes and abstracts congressional publications including House and Senate Reports, hearings, committee prints (publications that include topics related to legislative or research activities), and public laws.  Includes legislative histories section of U.S. statutes with links to publication records and selected full text.
HeinOnline Contains a federal legislative histories database, historical volumes of the United States Statutes at Large, and the Congressional Record.
United States Code, Congressional and Administrative News Includes selective legislative history resources beginning in 1948. 
United States Statutes at Large Includes selected legislative history citations for public laws beginning with 1963.  The print version for years 1963-1974  includes a Guide to Legislative History of Bills Enacted into Public Law Table.  For volume 89 though the end of set, legislative history references are included following each public law.
Congressional Record Index Contains a History of Bills and Resolution section. Included are citations to floor activities and congressional documents and reports.
FDsys Contains a History of Bills and Resolutions section from 1983 to the present.  Also provides full text of bills beginning with the 103rd Congress, the Congressional Record (1994 - present), select House and Senate hearings beginning with the 99th Congress, select documents beginning with the 94th Congress, and select reports beginning with the 104th Congress.

 

 

  • FDsys: GPO's Federal Digital System (from the official United States Government Publishing Office) provides free online access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government.  FDsys allows users to search for official documents and publications. 

 

  • United States Senate: Official site of the United States Senate.  Contains information on senators and committees, pending bills and legislation, and other resources concerning the U.S. Senate.

 

  • United States House of Representatives:  Official site of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Contains information on current and past legislation, a directory of representatives, information about committees, and other resources concerning the House of Representatives.

 

  • Congress.gov : Provides information about current bills as well as information about members of the House and Senate, committee reports, executive communications, treaty documents, and committee reports.

 

  • Federal Legislative History Guide: Produced by the Library of Congress, this guide provides a basic outline of resources to consult when searching federal legislative history.

 

  • How Laws Are Made: Located at congress.gov, this guide provides information about the legislative process.  For more information about how a bill becomes a law, consult the "How a Bill Becomes a Law" research guide created by Government Documents Librarian Tami Melancon: http://www.shsulibraryguides.org/c.php?g=351551
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Texas Codes and Statutes

Texas Statutory Law Wordle Image

Texas statutes are published in Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated (Tex. Code Ann) or the Vernon's Annotated Revised Civil Statutes of the State of Texas (Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann.)  There are two publications because Texas is nearing the completion of a recodification of its statutes.  The general index to the Texas statutes can be used to locate statutes within both sets.  While both contain current law, the Revised Civil Statutes are merely an older arrangement of the Texas statutes. 

Prior to being printed in Vernon's, laws are published in a chronological arrangement in the order in which they were passed in the Texas Legislature.  Once they are codified (by subject) they are printed in Texas Codes Annotated or the Revised Civil Statutes Annotated.

  • Texas Slip Laws: Slip laws are newly enacted laws.  They are printed after an Act is passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.  Texas slip laws are available through the Statutory Documents Section of the Secretary's of State's Office.

 

 

 

 

 

Law Type Description
Slips Laws

When A bill is introduced, it is assigned a bill number along with a Senate or House Bill designation.  for example Senate Bill 35 would be S.B. 35 or House Bill 35 would be H.B. 35. Following hearings, debates, edits, and votes, if a bill is passed in both houses, it is called an "enrolled bill" which is then sent to the Governor for approval.  If the bill is signed by the Governor, it is later published in the Texas Session Laws.

For information on how to follow a bill in the Texas Legislature see Texas Legislature Online. To look up particular bills, use the Bill Search function at Texas Legislature Online.

Session Laws

Both during and immediately following legislative sessions, recent session laws are printed chronologically in Vernon's Texas Session Law Service (pamphlet form) (REF KFT1230.5 .V46).  Thereafter, session laws and concurrent and joint resolutions enacted into law are published in the General and Special Laws of Texas (final bound version) (REF KFT1640 .T45). These are also available online at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas .  The session law includes the text of the law, chapter number assigned to the bill, bill number, Vernon's statute number passage date, vote total, date of Governor's signature, and effective date (if none, default is September 1). 

General and Special Laws of the State of TexasREF KFT1640 .T45                   

Public laws in full text with legislative history – arranged chronologically.

Online access (1989 -- present) available at the Texas Legislaure Online

Online access (1879 -- present) available at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas

Finding aids:  cumulative subject index, acts amended or repealed, Bills and Resolutions Approved, Bills and Resolutions Vetoed after Adjournment.

Texas Code

Session laws are topically arranged (codified) in Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated.  Those statutes not incorporated into subject codes can be found in Vernon's Annotated Revised Civil statutes of the State of Texas (REF KFT1230.5 .V41).  Statutes are organized by articles and subdivided into sections and contain historical notes and case references.  Below are each of the Codes:

  • Agriculture Code
  • Alcoholic Beverage Code
  • Business and Commerce Code
  • Business Organizations Code
  • Civil Practice and Remedies Code
  • Code of Criminal Procedure
  • Education Code
  • Election Code
  • Family Code
  • Finance Code
  • Government Code
  • Health and Safety Code
  • Human Resources Code
  • Insurance Code
  • Labor Code
  • Local Government Code
  • Natural Resources Code
  • Occupations Code
  • Parks and Wildlife Code
  • Penal Code
  • Probate Code
  • Property Code
  • Special District Local Laws Code
  • Texas Probate Code
  • Tax Code
  • Transportation Code
  • Utilities Code
  • Water Code

Finding Aids: 

General Index: To search by subject.  Each code also contains an index.

Popular Name Table: Lists common act names.   

Derivation Table: This table indicates where current code section were in the Civil Statutes.

Disposition Table:  This table indicates where Civil Statutes are in the current Code.

Location:

Texas Statutes can be found:

  • Westlaw: under State Materials >Texas>Texas Statues & Court Rules

 

 

 

 

 

Legislative History

Legislative history encompasses each of the legislative progresses of a bill goes through during its journey to becoming a statute.  Every official action the Texas legislature takes regarding the statute becomes part of its legislative history. A proposed bill can go through several hearings, edits, and votes before being approved.  These processes (as well as the accompanying documents generated therein or bills introduced in subsequent Legislatures that amend or repeal the statute) become a law's legislative history and can be very useful information when determining the law's foundation and purpose (legislative intent). 

Legislative histories typically include analyzing the following:

In addition to examining the above documents, it is necessary to look at past versions of a statute when conducting a legislative history.  Following each statute in Vernon's there is a Historical Notes section that indicates when the statute was passed as well as when the statute was amended and prior citations.  It is best to begin your history with the earliest form of the legislation and then work your way forward to the most recent. 

Texas Legislative History Resources:

  • Texas Legislature Online: Official website of the Texas Legislature.  Provides information on legislation, committees, Texas House of Representatives, and the Texas Senate.

 

  • Texas Senate: Official website of the Texas Senate. Contains information on senators and committees, pending bills and legislation, and other resources concerning the Texas Senate.

 

  • Texas House of Representatives: Official website of the Texas House of Representatives. Contains a directory of Representatives, information about committees, pending bills and legislation, and other resources concerning the Texas House of Representatives.

 

  • How a Texas Bill Becomes a Law: Created by Government Documents Librarian Tami Melancon, this guide discusses how a bill is created, approved or denied in Texas including links to films on the legislative process, and gubernatorial information.
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Statutory Law in Other States

1.)     The primary database for searching statutory law in other states is through Westlaw.

  • Go to Westlaw and select the State Materials tab.

 

  • Choose the state you wish to research, then choose Statues & Court Rules.

Westlaw provides annotated state codes which are state laws organized topically.  Also provided are supplementary materials that give information about the history of statutes as well as citations to cases where courts have interpreted statutes.

2.)     Another option for statutory law research are the websites of state legislatures.  These can provide information about state legislative processes as well as links to statutory law and legislative history.


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