Federal Statutory Research

This guide contains materials for locating federal legislative documents such as session laws, code sections, and other online resources.

Introduction

Federal statutes are subject only to the constitution and enable the promulgation of regulatory law.  Researching within federal statutes may also be helpful with the application of common law principles as it is affected by statutory interpretation.

 

To understand federal statutes, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the legislative process.  Once legislation has been enacted, it becomes a slip law -- which is the first official statutory text issued by the legislative body.  Next, the law is chaptered into a session law.  These are organized chronologically and represent the statutes passed during the legislative session.  Finally, the law is codified into the official code.  In this process, the legislature takes the enacted law and organizes it by subject into the statutory code.  When doing research, you will likely work with only session laws and the codified law.  Slip laws are generally not collected by law libraries.

 

Another point to remember is that the official code produced by the legislative body often lags significantly behind the annotated code produced by private third parties.  For example, the U.S. Code lags behind both the U.S.C.A. (West) and the U.S.C.S. (Lexis).

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