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Federal Statutes

This guide aims to provide the user with a general understanding in locating and updating known statutes and in identifying federal statutes by citation, name, or subject.

Arrangement of Federal Statutes

Federal statutes are arranged in two different ways:

  • Chronologically as slip laws and session laws.
  • Topically (by subject) in codes. 

Session Laws

Federal statutes are first published as slip laws (individual pamphlets designated by public law number and containing the text of newly passed legislation).  At the end of each Congress, the slip laws are compiled and published in chronological sequence as session laws in the official session law publication for federal statutes, United States Statutes at Large.  West Publishing publishes an unofficial session law set, United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN.)  USCCAN is the standard working tool for session law research because it is far more current than either the official slip laws or United States Statutes at Large.


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The Codes are the standard working tool of the researcher delving into statutory law.  Codes represent a subject arrangement of statutes that are currently in effect. Codes generally preserve the original language of a session law but rearrange sections of the session law so that each section will appear with other statutory language on the same topic. Annotated codes provide case, law review and other annotations which aid in the understanding of the code section. 

Current federal codes are published in several separate sets.

United States Code (U.S.C.)

The U.S.C. is the official version of the Code. It is divided into 50 subject titles and subdivided by section. First published in 1926, a new edition is now issued approximately every six years. Bound cumulative supplements reflecting changes in the law are issued annually, but are often out-of-date by the time they are published.

United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.)

The U.S.C.A., published by West, follows the same title and section arrangement as the official Code but includes annotations to judicial decisions, law review articles, legal encyclopedias, American Law Reports, and references to other West publications such as USCCAN and to the “key number” system. USCA is supplemented by annual pocket parts (updated throughout the year by pamphlets) and a Statutory Supplement.

United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.)

The U.S.C.S., published by Lexis, also follows the same title and section arrangement as the official Code and provides annotations with references to judicial decisions, law review articles, Am. Jur., American Law Reports, and other secondary sources. USCS is supplemented by annual pocket parts, quarterly “Cumulative Later Case and Statutory Service” supplements and monthly Advance pamphlets.

Because of the timeliness of the supplementation as well as the presence of annotations, either USCA or USCS, rather than the official USC, is usually the preferred starting place for federal statutory research. It is important to note that the annotations in USCA and USCS are not entirely duplicative. You should always check both annotated sources to ensure fuller coverage of your Code section.

Updating the Codes

Before relying on a statute as authority, you must verify that it has not been amended or repealed. In addition to checking the annual pocket parts and updated supplements, you should check one of the following resources for the current status of your Code section. These resources can also be used to find the text of newly passed statutes.

1. U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) is a chronological compilation of federal legislation passed. It includes the text of the legislation as well as selected legislative history materials for each Public Law. USCCAN is published monthly and each issue contains a subject index, a popular name table, and tables of laws enacted and code sections affected.

2. USCS Advance Sheets, a monthly update to USCS, publishes the text of new Public Laws, Executive Orders and Presidential Documents and includes tables of Acts by Popular Name and of Code Sections Affected by new legislation.

3. USCA Statutory Supplement, a pamphlet update to the USCA providing the text of Public Laws from the current session, prior to being codified. The supplement follows a similar arrangement and pagination as the Statutes at Large; however, it also includes annotations and tables indicating which Code title and section are affected, as well as legislative history for the Public Law sections.

4. The text of federal statutes may also be found in the following databases: