A legislative history of a bill is the sequence of steps or path taken to arrive at the final version of the law; the term is also used to refer to the documents reflecting that history. One of the purposes in compiling a legislative history is to try to ascertain what the legislature intended in authoring the bill, or the purpose and meaning of specific legislative language. Congress publishes and UCLA Law Library collects virtually all of the important documents of legislative intent.
While every statute has a legislative history, conducting a comprehensive legislative history search is not always necessary when researching a statute or code section. Before beginning a legislative history search, you should check the sources outlined in our guide Finding Federal Statutes. Legislative history research can be time consuming. If you are a summer associate, law clerk, or research assistant you should consult with your supervising attorney or professor to determine if conducting legislative history research is necessary to your particular research question.
Consider the following road map when compiling a legislative history (the remainder of this guide will walk you through these steps in greater detail):
The tools and documents available depend on the age of the statute or bill. Many legislative documents, usually from 1990 or later, are becoming available on the Internet and are noted in this guide.
For a more detailed account of how federal laws are made, see the GPO publication John V. Sullivan, How Our Laws Are Made (2007). A visualization of how federal laws are made is provided in the box below. You may click on the image to view a larger version.
The "How Our Laws Are Made" image was created by Mike Wirth and Dr. Suzanne Cooper Guasco and is licensed for use under the Creative Commons Atrribution 3.0 United States License.