Law Library Stacks

Following is a basic outline of resources to consult when first researching a federal legislative history. Materials such as bills, committee hearings, committee reports, congressional debate and other documents (e.g. committee prints or presidential messages) can provide insight into the legislative intent of a particular law.

Getting Started

Following is an outline of resources to consult when researching the legislative history of a federal law.  Materials such as bills, committee hearings, committee reports, congressional debates, and other documents can provide insight into the legislative intent of a particular law. 

Before you begin your research, identify the public law citation or the Statutes at Large citation (e.g., P.L. 107-56; 115 Stat. 272), and the bill number and Congress of the Act or Resolution (e.g., H.R. 3162 from the 107th Congress).  Using the popular name of the statute, you can use Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Names (Call No. KF90 .S52) or the Popular Names table included with the United States Code (Call No. KF62), United States Code Annotated (Call No. KF62.5 .W45), or the United States Code Service (Call No. KF62 1972 .L38) to find the public law and Statutes at Large citation.  Bill numbers can be found on the first page of each statute as it appears in the United States Statutes at Large (Call No. KF50 .U5) since 1904; to locate bill numbers for laws passed before 1904 use Eugene Nabors, Legislative Reference Checklist: The Key to Legislative Histories from 1789 to 1903 (Call No. KF49 .L43 1982 RR Desk) and HeinOnline.

To learn if a compiled legislative history already exists for the law you are researching, consult these resources:

Back to Top

Indexes and Sources

Congressional Information Service (CIS) Annual (Call No. KF49 .C62). Indexes and abstracts congressional publications including House and Senate reports, hearings, committee prints and public laws since 1970.  From 1970 – 1983, Abstracts volume includes a condensed “Legislative History” section listing congressional documents by public law number.  From 1984 forward, includes separate Legislative Histories volume. Other Indexes by CIS are available for researching pre-1970 legislation (see Chart below).

ProQuest Congressional Online version of the CIS Annual.

United States Code, Congressional & Administrative News (USCCAN) (Call No. KF48 .W45).  Reprints all public laws appearing in the Statutes at Large since 1941.  Beginning in 1948, includes selected legislative history materials (e.g., excerpts of selected congressional reports and Congressional Record date references); beginning in 1986, includes Presidential signing statements. 

United States Statutes at Large (Call No. KF50 .U5). Beginning in 1963, contains legislative history citations for all public laws.  For volumes 77-88 (1963-1974), includes a table entitled “Guide to Legislative History of Bills Enacted into Public Law.” For volume 89 forward, includes legislative history references at the end of individual public laws.

Congressional Record Index (Call No. KF35). From 1873 to the present, each volume contains a “History of Bills and Resolutions” section, which includes citations to relevant floor debates as well as congressional reports and documents.

Congress.gov Offers free access to federal legislative information, including full-text access to public laws and congressional bills (103rd Congress forward), House and Senate reports (104th Congress forward), nominations (97th Congress forward), and the Congressional Record (104th Congress forward).  Also includes bill status and summary information starting in 1973 (93rd Congress).

FDSys Full-text access to bills beginning with the 103rd Congress, the Congressional Record from 1994-present, selected House and Senate hearings from the 99th Congress forward, selected documents from the 94th Congress forward, selected reports from the 104th Congress forward, and “History of Bills and Resolutions” section of Congressional Record Index from 1983-present.

Century of Lawmaking Includes records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75.

HeinOnline This subscription database includes all historical volumes of the Statutes at Large, the Congressional Record, and predecessor publications, as well as a substantial number of compiled legislative histories.


Back to Top

Quick Guide to Reference Sources

Type of Document Major Reference Sources
Committee Reports

United States Code, Congressional & Administrative News
(USCCAN) 1948 forward
KF48 .W45 (Legislative History volumes)

Post 1969:
CIS Annual
KF49 .C62

Pre-1970:
CIS U.S. Serial Set Index
1789-1969
Z1223.Z9 C65

Congressional Record Index
1873 forward
KF35 (History of Bills & Resolutions)

Free Internet Resources
Congress.gov
1995 forward

FDSys
1995 forward

Subscription Resources
(Databases & e-resources page on law.gov)
ProQuest Congressional
ProQuest Legislative Insight
Selected 1789 forward

Congressional Debate

Congressional Record
1873 forward (thru 1992 in Microform)
Congress.gov
1995 forward
FDSys
1994 forward

Congressional Record Index
1873 forward
KF35
Congress.gov
1995 forward
FDSys
1983 forward

Congressional Globe
1833-1873
Microform & Century of Lawmaking

Register of Debates
1824-1837
Microform & Century of Lawmaking

Annals of Congress
1789-1824
Microform & Century of Lawmaking

Subscription Resources
HeinOnline
1789 forward
ProQuest Congressional
1789 forward

Committee Hearings

Post 1969:
CIS Annual
KF49 .C62

Pre-1970:
CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index
1833-1969
KF40 .C56

CIS Unpublished U.S. Senate Committee Hearings Index
1823-1980
KF40 .C55

CIS Unpublished U.S. House of Representatives Committee Hearings Index
1833-1968
KF40 .C54

Free Internet Resources
FDSys
1997 forward
(selective)

Subscription Resources
ProQuest Congressional
ProQuest Legislative Insight
Selected 1833 forward

Presidential Messages

Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents
FDSys
2009 forward
American Presidency Project
2009 forward

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents
1965 forward
FDSys
1993 forward
American Presidency Project
1977-2009

Congressional Record
1873 forward
Thru 1992 in Microform

May be printed as Congressional Document

Post 1969:
CIS Annual
KF49 .C62

Pre-1970:
CIS U.S. Serial Set Index
1789-1969
Z1223 .Z9 C65

Committee Prints

Post 1969:
CIS Annual
KF49 .C62

Pre-1970:
CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index
Z1223.Z7 C66

Free Internet Resources
FDSys
1995 forward

Subscription Resources
ProQuest Congressional
ProQuest Legislative Insight
Selected 1830 forward

Congressional Documents

Post 1969:
CIS Annual
KF49 .C62

Pre-1970:
CIS U.S. Serial Set Index
1789-1969
Z1223.Z9 C65

Free Internet Resources
FDSys
1995 forward

Subscription Resources
ProQuest Congressional
ProQuest Legislative Insight
1789 forward

For further assistance consult a reference librarian at the Law Library Reading Room Reference Desk by calling (202) 707-5080 or by using Ask a Librarian.

Back to Top

Last Updated: 12/30/2020