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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: https://libguides.law.ucla.edu/federallegislativehistory

Why Should I Check for Cases, Articles, and Books?

Legislative history materials are never mandatory and judges vary greatly in how much persuasive weight they are willing to give to legislative history. In contrast, a published case from a higher court in your jurisdiction is always mandatory and judges are generally willing to consider other cases as persuasive. As a result, a case interpreting a statute is always stronger than the legislative history on its own.

Like legislative history materials, articles and books are always only persuasive. However, cases, articles, and books can all help you better understand the often complicated history behind a statute and quickly identify the most relevant portions of the most relevant legislative history documents.

Use Annotations and Citators to Check for Cases, Articles, and Books

The fastest way to locate relevant cases, articles, and books interpreting a statute is to use:

  • Annotations: Notes created by databases staff identifying relevant cases and other sources that interpret the statute and
  • Citators: Tools retrieving sources that cite your source.

Lexis and Westlaw have competing annotations and citators. Although there is some overlap, for the most comprehensive results you should check the annotations and citator for your statute on both Lexis and Westlaw. 

To start your research, type the citation to the statute into the main Lexis or Westlaw search box. For example, if you are interested in researching the history of 29 U.S.C. § 1182, type in 29 USC 1182 and hit enter.

Once you've accessed the statute on Westlaw:

  • To locate relevant annotations, click the Notes of Decisions tab (for cases) and the Context & Analysis tab (for law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and legal treatises). Skim for any references to legislative history or to the issue you are researching. 
  • To locate relevant citator results, click Citing References and then filter to Cases and Secondary Sources (for law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and legal treatises). Search within results for "legislative history" or for keywords related to your issue.

Once you've accessed the statute on Lexis:

  • To locate relevant annotations, scroll past the text of the statute to Notes to Decisions (for cases) and then scroll down further to Research References & Practice Aids (for law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and legal treatises). Skim for any references to legislative history or to the issue you are researching. 
  • To locate relevant citator results, click Shepardize and then filter to Citing Decisions (for cases) and Other Citing Sources (for law review articles, legal encyclopedias, and treatises). Search within results for "legislative history" or for keywords related to your issue.

Use Annotations and Citators without Lexis or Westlaw Access

If you do not have access to Lexis, you can access the Lexis annotations and citator on Nexis Uni:

Additionally, you can access both Lexis' and Westlaw's annotations in print at the law library:

Search for Cases, Articles, and Books Directly

Generally, the annotations and citator on Westlaw, Lexis, and Nexis Uni are the most efficient way to locate cases and law review articles discussing your statute.

However, if you'd like to do so, you can also search cases and law review articles directly on Westlaw, Lexis, and Nexis Uni, using the phrases legislative history or legislative intent and relevant keywords related to your statute.

You can also search for law review articles on the following databases:

Additionally, because Lexis and Westlaw have few articles from non-law journals and only a limited selection of legal books targeted at practicing attorneys, you may want to search separately for political science articles and for scholarly and journalistic books.

You can search for these sources using the following tools: