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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.

What are Indexes?

Indexes provide lists of the major documents that were generated in the process of passing a public law, from different drafts of the bill to committee reports to committee hearings. There are also indexes that provide lists of major Congressional documents on specific subjects, such as Congressional documents on education or on attorneys.

Unlike compiled histories, indexes do not necessarily include the full text of the documents. Although an increasing number of indexes link to the full text of documents, often indexes provide you only with citations to documents, which you can then use to retrieve the documents using the databases listed under Retrieve Individual Documents.

Using a compiled legislative history is always easier than compiling your own history using an index and you should always attempt to Locate a Compiled Legislative History before checking an index.

However, if no compiled history is available, checking an index allows you to feel more confident that you have found the most significant relevant documents and saves you the hassle of blindly searching each individual type of document. 

Using the CIS Abstracts/Indexes on ProQuest Congressional and Lexis

The most comprehensive and respected indexes to federal legislative history materials are the abstracts/indexes prepared by the Congressional Information Service (CIS). 

The CIS abstracts/indexes combine:

  • Abstracts: Short descriptions of Congressional documents, with citations indicating where to locate the full text.
  • Indexes: Lists of Congressional documents by subjects, names of individuals and organizations, and document names and numbers. CIS uses the term legislative histories to refer to indexes that list the major Congressional documents generated in the course of passing a public law.

The complete set of CIS abstracts have been digitized on ProQuest Congressional:

The CIS abstracts/indexes were formerly owned by Lexis and remain available on Lexis:

Using the CIS Indexes in Print

Generally, the most efficient and user-friendly way to access the CIS abstracts/indexes is through ProQuest Congressional and the UCLA libraries no longer update the CIS abstracts/indexes in print.

However, if you are interested in using the print CIS editions, older editions remain available at the law library and Young Research Library (YRL).

CIS first began publishing its abstracts and indexes in 1970. Abstracts and indexes were published in the monthly CIS Index to Publications of the U.S. Congress and then compiled into a yearly CIS Annual.

Both are available in the law library's reference room:

After the CIS abstracts/indexes became successful, CIS went back and prepared abstracts and indexes for documents from before it began publication in 1970. CIS released these retrospective indexes gradually by type of document and time period. 

Just like the CIS annual edition, each retrospective abstract/index requires you to first look up the subject in the index to locate the CIS numbers for the relevant documents; look ​up the CIS number for each document in the abstracts to locate each document's description and citation information; and then retrieve each individual document. 

Print copies of the retrospective CIS indexes are scattered between the law library and the Young Research Library (YRL):

Using Bill Tracking Tools to Locate Federal Legislative History

Bill tracking tools list each action that the legislature takes on a bill. They are generally intended to help lobbyists, legislative staff, and the public follow a bill but they can also serve as a useful starting point for compiling the history of a bill.

Bill tracking tools do not provide the kind of detailed citations to documents that the CIS indexes do but the list of actions can provide a basic timeline of the bill's history and clues to what documents are likely to be available. (E.g. If a bill was referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, you might look for committee reports and hearings from that committee. If a bill was amended three times, you know you need to look for three versions of the bill.)

The following sources provide bill tracking:

Using Other Indexes to Federal Legislative History

The Congressional Record includes an index and history of bills that can be used to locate relevant bills on a subject and compile basic timelines of their history. For more details, see this guide's page on the Congressional Record:

Westlaw's United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) publishes unofficial session laws (laws by date), with most laws accompanied by selected legislative history documents and legislative history tables that provide a basic timeline of the law's passage through Congress and citations to major legislative history documents.

The law library has access to the USCCAN legislative history tables on Westlaw and in print:

Finally, the law library formerly subscribed to the CCH Congressional Index, a competitor to the CIS abstracts/indexes. The law library no longer updates this title and has moved it to storage: