Codes, Statutory, and Constitutional Research

Bonus marchers from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection

U.S. Constitution
U.S. Code
Annotated and online codes
State codes
Public Laws and Statutes at Large





Statutory Research

  • Slip laws, session laws, codes
  • Positive law vs. prima facie evidence of law
  • Research usually in codes, but the determinative text is in statutes
  • Not all legislation is codified:  see statutes to find uncodified laws
  • Recodification process (states)
  • Official and unofficial editions
  • Annotated codes


Slip Laws, Session Laws, Codes

  • Slip Laws:  First official text, individual pamphlets
  • Session Laws:  Permanent, chronological arrangement by legislative session
  • Advance session services:  commercial slip law services
  • Codes:  Statutes in fixed topical arrangements, session laws rearranged, with amendments, deletion of repealed laws
  • Official Codes:  Published or approved by the government
  • Annotated Codes:  Reproduce official code text with editorial enhancements, annotations of cases interpreting or affecting the statute, plus cross-references to other research materials

Choosing whether to start with the Code or the uncodified statute (Public Laws)

  • Code:
    • For current, compiled, related statutes on a topic
    • Reviewing the laws currently in force
    • Where enacted into positive law
    • Older statutes still in effect
    • Superseded codes as of a particular date
    • If you already have a code citation
    • Browsing when limited to print
  • Statute:
    • Finding law as originally passed
    • When the statute has been codified in multiple places; find the pertinent sections, then update
    • For non-permanent statutes that aren't codified, such as appropriations acts
    • Recent acts not yet codified
    • First step in legislative history research


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