Research Guide

Federal Legislative History

New England Law Library

Helen Litwack, Reference Librarian

January 2006

Legislative history is chronology of events and the documents generated in the legislative process. Lawyers usually do legislative histories to find legislative intent which may then be offered, as persuasive authority, to courts in cases where the meaning of statutory language is in dispute.

Legislative process and statutory construction, generally

NESL Research Guide, Legislative History: What? And Why?

How Our Laws are Made, by Parliamentarian, U.S. House of Representatives

Enactment of a Law, by Parliamentarian, United States Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives: The Legislative Process"

Law Librarian's Society of Washington, D.C.'s Federal Legislative History Research: A Practitioner's Guide for Compiling the Documents and Sifting for Legislative Intent

Narrowing the scope of inquiry

Focus on specific questions to be answered. If the statutory wording at issue is language added by amendment, then legislative history of the amendment, e.g., by its own separate Public Law number, should be researched, not the original act.

A court may determine what legislative intent 'must have been' solely from the pattern of amendments over time: what language Congress added or deleted, particularly in response to particular judicial interpretations of the statute. Justice Souter did this in Booth v. Churner,532 U.S. 731, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001).

Judges and attorneys may request legislative history on a rush basis without the lead time necessary for a comprenehsive complilation and review of ALL documents in the trail. However, they may well be satisfied with one "major" document, such as the Conference Committee Report (wherein the Seante and the House iron out their differences near the end of the legislative road). In that case, U.S.C.C.A.N. (described below) or adept online searching can produce enough to meet the research need in relatively short order.

Starting points: the citations you will need

For enacted legislation, the Public Law Number (session law cite) is the key citation, as opposed to the statutory code section where the Act was placed. In annotated codes, U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S.), the Public Law number follows the text of the statute (e.g., P.L. 104-22 is the 22nd law passed in the 104th Congress). The Public Law cites for amendments are there also. United States Statutes at Largeis the print publication containing the Public Laws in chronological order; the bill number appears at the top of the first page of the each Act. Note that statutory cites lead directly into legislative history in one instance: the History section of U.S.C.A. may cite to United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.) which contains selected compiled legislative histories.

For never-enacted historical bills or currently pending legislation (where there is no session law cite), the bill number is the essential first datum. To find the bill number, use subject, sponsor's name, the relevant time period or exact date, the popular name of the bill, etc. in electronic or print resources, described in more detail below.

Using compiled legislative histories (don't reinvent the wheel!)

Do not reinvent the wheel. For major legislation, law review articles may offer scholarly analysis of the Act with useful cites to key legislative documents. There are also commercially published legislative histories. Search NESL's online catalog, Portia, for individual legislative histories using "legislative" and "history" as keywords. Other sources of compiled legislative histories:

United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.)
U.S.C.C.A.N. (1948-) is a serial publication which includes legislative histories for what the publisher, West, considers "major legislation" from each session of Congress. Although West publishes only the "major documents" in each legislative history, this often meets the entire research need. Available in print, updated by the advance legislative service pamphlets (red & white) at the end of U.S.C.A.

Congressional Information Service (C.I.S.)<1970-)
This ia a print publication, with legislative histories, e.g., lists of documents in the passage of a law available on corresponding C.I.S. microfiche. The online version of C.I.S. is called Lexis-Nexis Congressional, infra.

Westlaw compiled legislative histories:
U.S.C.C.A.N. on Westlaw is in database: "LH". (From 1990 forward, Westlaw's "LH" database contains more committee reports than the print version of U.S.C.C.A.N.. Also includes reports on bills that did not become law.) Westlaw has U.S.C.C.A.N. in database "LH" plus legislative histories compiled by the law firm Arnold & Porter.

Lexis compiled Legislative Histories:
C.I.S. Legislative Histories are in the Source Directory under: Legal > Legislation & Politics U.S. & U.K. > U.S. Congress > Legislative Histories.

On the Web: compiled legislative histories:
Lexis-Nexis Congressional Universe, Includs not only 1970-, which is also on print and on Lexis, but also Historical Indexes, 1789-1980 and Indexes to Unpublished Hearings through 1980. NESL does not have the corresponding microfiche for pre-1970 documents, but with the CIS#, you may get them on interlibrary loan.

Other indexes of compiled legislative hisotories:
Johnson, Nancy P., Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: a bibliography of government documents, periodical articles and books, 1st Congress - 101st, KF42.2 1979, Reference; and through Hein Online.
Nabors, Eugene, Legislative reference checklist: the key to legislative histories from 1789-1903.KF49 .L43 1982, Lower Mezzanine;
Reams, Bernard D., Federal Legislative Histories: an annotated bibliography, KF42.2 1994, Reference;
Union List of Legislative Histories, KF4.U55 2000; Lower Mezzanine;

Blaze a fresh trail - only if necessary!

If U.S.C.C.A.N. isn't enough, no compiled legislative histories are found and you must compile a legislative history from scratch: (1) obtain the bill history(chronology of events); and (2) assess which documents generated warrant attention.

Statutes should always be read in print in an annotated (not an official) code. The History section will provide invaluable citations and sometimes short summaries of amendments. Statutory schemes are easier to comprehend in print than online. The print resource for session laws, United States Statutes at Large , contains notes in the margins showing where each individual paragraph went into the United States Code, and this graphical presentation is much clearer than trying to find the comparable information viewing a Public Law online. U.S.C.A. will provide cites to U.S.C.C.A.N.legislative histories when available ("major" legislation).

Alternative resources:

Official website of U.S. Congress. Free and accessible remotely. Bills, debates, votes, committee reports, committee home pages, selected hearings. Dates of coverage vary, but bill summaries, Congressional Record text (e.g., debates), and Public Laws go back farther on Thomasthan on GPO Access, infra.

GPO Access.
Official website of the Superintendent of Documents. Free and accessible remotely. Bills, hearings, debates, reports, bill histories. Also hearings, committee prints (.e.g, specially commissioned expert reports), which are not on Thomassupra.

Congressional Research Service Reports .
Congressional Research Service Reports.
Open CRS: Congressional Research Service Reports.
Congressional Research Service Reports.
Congressional ResearchService Reports.


Barnes, Jeb., Overruled? : legislative overrides, pluralism, and contemporary court-Congress relations, KF425 .B37 2004, Lower mezzanine.
Berring, Robert C., Finding the law, 11th ed., KF240 .C539 1995, Reserve.
Brown, Ronald Benton, Statutory interpretation : the search for legislative intent, KF425 .B76 2002, Lower mezzanine.
Cheney, Timothy D., Who makes the law: the Supreme Court, Congress, the states, and society, KF4930 .C44 1998, Upper mezzanine.
Cohen, Morris L., Legal research in a nutshell, KF240 .C54 2003, Reserve.
Davies, Jack, Legislative law and process in a nutshell, 2nd ed., KF4933.Z9 D38 1986, Upper mezzanine.
Dickerson, Reed, The interpretation and application of statutes, KF425 .D5x 1975, Lower mezzanine.
Eskridge, William N., Dynamic statutory interpretation, KF425 .E84 1994, Lower mezzanine.
Eskridge, William, N., Legislation and statutory interpretation, KF425 .E842 2000, Reserve.
Greenawalt, Kent, Legislation : statutory interpretation : 20 questions
Hurst, James Willard, Dealing with statutes, KF425 .H87 1982, Lower mezzanine.
Irwin, Lewis G., A chill in the House : actor perspectives on change and continuity in the pursuit of legislative success, KF4945 .I79 2002, Upper mezzanine.
Jacobstein, J. Myron et. al., Fundamentals of legal research, 8th ed., KF240 .J3 2002, Reserve.
Katzmann, Robert A., Courts and Congress, KF8700 .K37 1997, Upper mezzanine.
Kravitz, Walter, Congressional Quarterly's American congressional dictionary, JK9 .K73 2001, First floor treatise.
Krehbiel, Keith, Pivotal politics: a theory of U.S. lawmaking, KF4945 .K74 1998, Upper mezzanine.
MacCormick, D. Neil, and Robert S. Summers, Interpreting statutes: a comparative study, K290 .I58 1991, Lower mezzanine.
Mammen, Christian, Using legislative history in American statutory interpretation, K425 .M36 2002, Lower mezzanine.
Mikva, Abner J., An introduction to statutory interpretation and the legislative process, KF425 .M45 1997, Reserve.
Mikva, Abner J., Legislative process, KF4945.A7 M55 2002, Reserve.
Neumann, Richard K., Jr., Legal reasoning and legal writing, 4th ed., KF250 .N48 2001, Lower mezzanine.
Popkin, William D., Materials on legislation: political language and the political process, 4th ed, KF4945.A7 P67 2005, Reserve.
Redman, Eric, The dance of legislation, KF4980 .R4, Upper mezzanine.
Scalia, Antonin, A matter of interpretation: federal courts and the law: an essay, KF4552 .S25 1997, Upper mezzanine.
Sinclair, Barbara, Unorthodox lawmaking : new legislative processes in the U.S. Congress, KF4945 .S56 1997, Upper mezzanine.
Singer, Norman J., Statutes and statutory construction, 6th ed., KF425 .S25 2000, Lower mezzanine.
Statsky, William P., Legislative analysis and drafting, 2nd ed., KF425 .S8 1984, Lower mezzanine.
Tiersma, Peter Meijes, Legal language. K213 .T54 1999, First floor treatise.

Berrring, Robert C., Commando legal research [videorecording]/ Tape 3., KF240 .B4 1989, Reserve.

Law review articles:
Citations are in Westlaw ‘Find’ format, except where indicated. Omit the date on Find.

Chomsky, Carol, Unlocking the mysteries of Holy Trinity: spirit, letter, and history in statutory interpretation, 100 CMLR 901 (2000).
Frickey, Phillip P., From the big sleep to the big heat: the revival of theory in statutory interpretation, 77 Minn. L. Rev. 241 (1992).
Note, Why Learned Hand would never consult legislative history today, 105 HVLR 1005 (1992).
O’Connor, Gary E., Restatement (First) of statutory interpretation, 7 NYUJLPP 333 (2003-2004).
Rosenkranz, Nicholas Quinn, Federal rules of statutory interpretation, 115 HVLR 2085 (2002).
Stevens, Justice John Paul, The Shakespeare canon of statutory construction, 140 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1373 (1992).
Symposium on statutory construction, 3 Vanderbilt Law Review (available on HeinOnline).
Symposium: a reevaluation of the canons of statutory interpretation, 45 Vand. Law Rev. 529 (1992) (available on HeinOnline).
Yoo, John Choon, Marshall’s Plan: the early Supreme Court and statutory interpretation, 101 YLJ 1607 (1992).

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