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.
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.
Many major federal laws already have detailed legislative histories compiled, meaning that all the documents comprising the legislative history are already gathered together.
If there is no legislative history already compiled, you will need to pull the documents together yourself.
Restricted Databases (UCLA only):
Free Databases and Resources:
UCLA Law students, faculty, and staff can view a recorded workshop on federal legislative history research, presented via Zoom on Tuesday, October 18, 2022, by Elyse Meyers: