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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.

Where Can I Find Debates?

Debates on the floor of Congress are recorded in the following publications:

  • Annals of Congress (1789-1824)
  • Register of Debates (1824-1837)
  • Congressional Globe (1833-1873)
  • Congressional Record (1873- present). 

The Congressional Record is published in a newspaper-style daily edition (and, until 1985, a biweekly edition), then renumbered and recompiled into a bound (hardback) permanent edition at the end of each legislative session. Bluebook Rule 13.5 tells you to cite the daily edition only if the permanent edition is not yet available.

HeinOnline and ProQuest Congressional for Debates

Generally, the most comprehensive and usable sources for Congressional debates are HeinOnline and ProQuest Congressional:

Free Websites for Debates

Although free versions of the Congressional debates can be somewhat clunkier to navigate, you can also access complete PDFs of Congressional debates for free online:

Lexis and Westlaw for Debates

Both Lexis and Westlaw provide access to Congressional debates, although they generally do not offer a significant advantage over the free options. However, if you would like to search copies of the Congressional Record (Daily Edition) from 1985 forward by keyword, Lexis and Westlaw do allow you to perform more sophisticated keyword and terms and connectors searching. 

Print and Microform Copies of Debates

Finally, the UCLA Law Library also owns print and microform copies of the Congressional Record:

Indexes to the Congressional Record

The Congressional Record includes two indexes:

  • A subject index that lists debates and bills by subject. The subject index is useful for finding debates that are not related to a specific bill. Additionally, multiple legislators often introduce competing or companion bills on the same subject and the subject index can be useful for locating these bills.
  • A history of bills and resolutions that lists each action taken on each individual bill. The history of bills is useful for establishing a basic timeline of the bill's history but, for a full history, make sure to also consult the more detailed CIS indexes.

Generally, the most efficient way to use the indexes is to access the permanent edition for the relevant year on HeinOnline or GovInfo. Look at the end of the permanent edition for sections labeled index and history of bills. Each index entry will refer you to the relevant page numbers within the permanent edition.

GovInfo omits the index and history of bills from the permanent edition beginning in 1999. Instead, from 1983 forward, GovInfo provides separate pages for the index and history of bills:

These separate pages provide citations to the Daily Edition in the format PAGE [DAY MONTH]. (E.g. S5798 [9JN] means page 5798 of the Senate section of the June 9th daily edition, while H4359 [18MY] means page 4359 of the House section of the May 18th daily edition.)

For recent years, they can be useful tools because each citation is directly linked to the relevant pages of the Daily Edition. However, they are less useful for older years, where they often omit citations entirely and where only the permanent edition is available on GovInfo. Additionally, keep in mind that if you are using Bluebook citation format, you will ultimately need to cite to the permanent edition.

For all these reasons, using the index and history of bills in the permanent edition is the better choice, except for very recent debates that have not yet been published in the permanent edition.