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Federal Legislative History

This research guide provides assistance to UCLA School of Law students tracing the legislative history of a federal statute.
URL: http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/federallegislativehistory

What's in this Guide

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. Lawyers and other professionals compile legislative histories in order to understand what the legislature intended in authoring the bill, or the purpose and meaning of specific legislative language. This guide will help you locate and understand the legislative history of federal laws. It provides a step-by-step process for conducting a legislative history, and lists helpful library resources and databases to aid in your research. 

Getting Started

Do you really need a legislative history? 

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.

Is there already a legislative history compiled? 

Many major federal laws already have detailed legislative histories compiled, meaning that all the documents comprising the legislative history are already gathered together.

  1. Locate the Public Law NumberCheck any version of the United States Code.  At the bottom of the text, there will be a reference to the Public Law Number for the original law and any subsequent amendments in the format of YY-NNNN (e.g., 98-123).  
  2. Locate a Compiled Legislative History.  

If you need to compile the legislative history yourself:

If there is no legislative history already compiled, you will need to pull the documents together yourself.

  1. Locate the Public Law NumberCheck any version of the United States Code.  At the bottom of the text, there will be a reference to the Public Law Number for the original law and any subsequent amendments in the format of YY-NNNN (e.g., 98-123).  
  2. Use an Index to Identify Documents. Using the Public Law Number or Bill Number, locate references to legislative history documents. This is much more efficient than diving right into full-text databases and searching for key words.
  3. Use Databases to Find Documents. Find the full text of the documents you have identified in databases or other sources. 

Key Resources

Restricted Databases (UCLA only): 

Free Databases and Resources: