Public Laws and Statutes


Public Laws

  • First official publication in slip laws
    • Slip laws can't be published until code assignments for law made by the Office of the Federal Register
  • Slip Laws include date, law number, bill number, Stat. cite, margin notes, USC classifications, legislative history notes
  • Private and Public Laws
    • Private Laws:  For the benefit of a specific individual or small group
  • Most bills never become law
    • As of September 19, 2012, only 173 Public Laws for the 112th Congress
  • 1 USC 113:  Competent evidence of the law
  • Citation format example:  P.L. 112-28
    • 112th Congress, 28th consecutive Public Law passed
  • Superseded by Statutes at large
  • Until slip law available, use enrolled bill or conference report:  text available in Congressional Record or on Thomas
  • PDF example:  P.L. 109-8

Sources for Public Laws

  • Print: First Floor Government Documents
    • AE 2.110:
    • In Statutes at Large in Public Law Number Order AE 2.111:  See List of Public Laws in the front of the volume
    • Commercial versions:  USCCAN and USCS Advance Service
  • Thomas
    • First electronic availability as enrolled bill
    • Includes bill history, status, short and official titles, text of Public Laws back to 1973 as enrolled bills
    • Includes some legislative history links to Reports and Congressional Record on Thomas
    • Includes links to pdf version on GPO Access
  • New Congress.gov
    • New in beta Sept. 19, 2012, replacing Thomas in 2013
    • Legislation 10th Congress to current
    • More on legislative activities: links to House and Senate calendars, Congressional Record
    • Search all content, narrow and refine searches
    • Homepage links to most searched bills, laws passed, subject lists
    • Bill search results with status graphic, latest action
    • Bill pages include text CRS summary, major actions, titles, amendments, sponsors, committees, related bills
  • FDSys:
    • GPO database,  replacement for GPO Access
    • Retrieve by citation or browse by Public (or Private) Law number
    • Advanced Search fields including full-text, title, and bill and US Code citation
  • Westlaw: 
    • USCCAN-PL:  Public Laws from 1973 to current Congress
    •  US-PL: Public Laws from the current Congress
    •  US-PL-OLD:  Public Laws from 1973 to 2008
    • USCA-TABLES to find classification from the Public Law section to the USCA section, with links
  • Lexis: 
  • Hein Online Statutes at Large
    • 1789-2009 in pdf images of Statutes at Large volumes
    • Use the Citation Navigator to retrieve by Public Laws or Stat. citation
    • Browse by Public Laws number or year, or use the Popular Names Table
    • Field Search  including Public Laws number, date, and full-text
  • New Public Laws related to Federal agencies may be available on agency websites
  • Federal Register new Public Law numbers
    • GSA PENS subscription
    • E-mail service for newly enacted public laws

Finding Uncodified Statutes

  • Not all legislation (Federal or state) is codified
  • Appropriations laws aren't codified
  • Code includes laws "of a general and permanent nature"
  • Include private laws, temporary laws, appropriations laws, and others
  • Find in Statutes at Large (print or online), slip Public and Private Laws, FDSys, Congress.gov, Thomas 
  • USCA and USCS pamphlets, USCS Uncodified Laws and Treaties volumes

Statutes at Large

  • Permanent collection of laws of each session of Congress
    • Chronological arrangement as enacted, no later amendments
  • Includes Constitutional amendments, Presidential Proclamations, Concurrent Resolutions, Reorganization Plans
    • Private and Public Laws
    • Includes List of Bills Enacted, List of Public Laws in the volume, Popular Name and Subject Indexes
    • Public Laws include bill number, margin notes of USC citations, legislative history citations
  • Volume spine info includes Congress, session, year
  • Each volume includes a Popular Name Index and Subject Index
  • PDF Example:  Statutes at Large

Statutes at Large Sources

  • Print:
    • First Floor Government Documents AE 2.111:
  • Westlaw Statutes at Large:  1789-1972, searchable, in PDF
  • Lexis: Statutes at Large table (Public Laws by Congress)
  • American Memory Collection (Library of Congress):  1789-1873
  • Hein Online in pdf, 1789-2009
    • Includes citation navigator by Public Law number
    • Browse by Popular Name or Public Law number
  • FDSys:  2003-2009.  Retrieve by citation.  Browse by number:  Public Laws, bill number, Concurrent Resolution, or Presidential Proclamation, or by Popular Names (alphabetical).  Advanced search fields including full-text, bill citation, title.

History of the Statutes at Large

  • Publication began 1845 under authority of Congressional REsolution
  • Publication by GPO began 1874
  • Included treaties, international agreements, Indian treaties until 1948
  • Earliest volumes included several Congresses
  • Now 6 or 7 parts published for each session, with 1 volume number
  • Early volumes arranged by chapter number instead of Public Law
  • Revised Statutes
    • First official codification of the Federal Statutes
    • All general statutes in force as of December 1873
    • In Statutes at Large set at volume 18
    • Published 1874, new version correcting errors in 1878

Tips for research in Public Laws and Statutes at Large

  • If you have a citation to a section in U.S.C. and need to find the Public Law
    • Use the History Notes with the code section in any print code volume or online codes
    • Use the Tables volume 2, USCA tables, in USCA in print
    • Use USCA-POP on Westlaw
  • If you have a citation to a section of the Public Law and need to find the U.S. Code section
    • Use the Public Laws or Statutes at Large in print, or the FDSys pdf Public Laws, and use the margin notes with U.S.C. citations
    • Use the Public Laws or Statutes at Large tables in print:  USCA Tables Volume 1, USCS Statutes at Large Tables, or USC Tables
    • On Lexis, use the USCS Statutes at Large Table
    • On Westlaw, use the USCA-TABLES
    • For Public Laws since 1995, use the classification tables at  US House OLRC

Judicial Interpretation

  • Establishing the meaning of statutes
  • USCA and USCS annotations
  • KeyCite and Shepards
  • Westlaw and Lexis: Use USCA and USCS annotations, or search cases by code section
  • ALR, Digests
  • Treatises and secondary sources

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