Law Library Stacks

Statutes, also known as acts, are laws passed by a legislature.  Federal statutes are laws enacted by Congress with (and in some circumstances without) the approval of the President. Federal statutes are published in three formats:  (1) initially as individual slip laws, (2) in compilations of slip laws known as session laws, and (3) as codified law incorporated into a code.  Slip laws are individually paginated pamphlets, each containing a single statute.  Session laws compile the slip laws enacted in a session of Congress.  Codes are subject compilations of statutes in effect, as amended.  Federal slip laws, session laws, and codified laws are available in print and electronic sources.  Statutes may be found using a citation or popular name, or by subject – for a quick reference guide to resources for finding statutes, see the table on the reverse.

Slip Laws

Newly enacted laws, whether public (affecting society as a whole) or private (affecting an individual or small group), are first published as slip laws.  Public laws are then reprinted by public law number in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) (Call No. KF48 .W45).  Each month current laws are published in USCCAN’s advance sheets and reissued as bound volumes after the end of each session of Congress.  Advance sheets and bound volumes contain cumulative subject indexes for the session and tables for locating laws by popular name and by affected United States Code section.  USCCAN is available in the Law Library Reading Room.  In addition, the United States Code Service (USCS) (Call No. KF62 1972 .L38) includes monthly USCS Advance pamphlets reprinting current public laws, which are also available in the Law Library Reading Room.

Back to Top

Session Laws

The official compilation of the laws of each session of Congress, United States Statutes at Large (Stat.) (Call No. KF50 .U5), is published by the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) after each session adjourns.  Statutes at Large includes both public laws and private laws.  A subject index appears at the end of each volume.  Statutes at Large is available in the Law Library Reading Room.

Back to Top

Codified Law

Laws passed by Congress that are of a “general and permanent” nature, have been compiled into two codes:  Revised Statutes of the United States (Call No. KF50 .U5) and the United States Code (Call No. KF62).  Revised Statutes includes statutes enacted from 1789 through 1873.  The United States Code was first published in 1926.  A new edition is printed every six years and is supplemented annually.  The United States Code is currently organized into 53 subject titles (titles 1­­-52 and 54, with title 53 in reserve) and includes an index, a popular names table, and other supplementary tables.  Revised Statutes and the United States Code are available in the Law Library Reading Room.

There are two commercially published, annotated versions of the United States Code:  the USCS, mentioned above, and United States Code Annotated (USCA) (Call No. KF62.5 .W45).  These versions include annotations with references to cases and regulations that interpret statutes, and are updated by pocket-part supplements.  As with the United States Code, both also have indices and supplemental tables.  The USCS and USCA are available in the Law Library Reading Room.

Back to Top

Citations

The citation for a slip law includes its public or private law number, which has two parts:  the number of the Congress in which it was enacted, and a sequentially assigned number.  For example, Pub. L. No. 108-45 is the 45th law passed during the 108th Congress.  Statutes at Large citations refer to the volume of Statutes at Large in which the law was published, and the page on which it starts.  For example, a law with a Statutes at Large citation of 107 Stat. 25 begins on page 25 of volume 107.  A United States Code citation includes a title number and section number.  For example, 26 USC § 115 refers to section 115 of title 26 of the United States Code.

The popular names table in the United States Code can be used to look up statutes by popular name to find their slip law, Statutes at Large, and United States Code citations.  Similar tables appear in the USCS and USCA, as well as in Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name (Call No. KF90 .S52).  The United States Code citation for a public law is also found in the page margin of the statute, whether published as a slip law or in Statutes at Large.

Back to Top

Databases and Internet Resources

In addition to print sources available in the Law Library Reading Room, you can find federal statutes in subscription databases and on the Web.  At the Library of Congress, you can access slip laws and Statutes at Large through the subscription databases ProQuest Congressional, and HeinOnline.  You can also access the USCS on LexisNexis Library Express, and the USCA on Westlaw, available only in the Law Library Reading Room.  In addition, the websites below offer free access to slip laws, Statutes at Large, and the United States Code.  Dates of coverage vary; you can find coverage information on the websites themselves.

Back to Top

Quick Reference Guide to Resources for Finding Statutes

When you want to see the text of the law as originally passed by Congress:

If you know:

To locate the law check:

1.  Public or private law number (e.g., Pub. L. No. 108-79 or Priv. L. No. 108-2) or Statutes at Large citation (e.g., 117 Stat. 972).

Print:  Public and private laws: Statutes at Large.  Public laws: USCCAN.  For recent public laws: USCCAN supplements or USCS Advance pamphlets.

Online:  Public and private laws: GPO’s FDsys.  Public laws: Congress.gov.  

2.  The name of the law.

Print:  Popular names tables in the United States Code, USCA, or USCS, or Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name.  For recent laws: the popular names tables in USCCAN supplements or in USCS Advance pamphlets.

Online:  Search Congress.gov or use the Popular Name Tool on the OLRC web site.

3.  The subject of the law.

Print or Online:  Use the index in the relevant volume of Statutes at Large.

 When you want to locate the law as codified in the United States Code:

If you know:

To locate the law check:

1.  Public or private law number (e.g., Pub. L. No. 108-79 or Priv. L. No. 108-2) or Statutes at Large citation (e.g., 117 Stat. 972).

Print:  The Statutes at Large tables in the United States Code, USCA, or USCS, or the notes in the margins of the statute as published in slip law or Statutes at Large format.

Online:  The Statutes at Large table to the United States Code on the OLRC website.

2.  The name of the law.

Print:  Popular names tables in the United States Code, USCA, or USCS, or Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name.  For recent laws: the popular names tables in USCS Advance pamphlets.

Online:  Use the Popular Name Tool on the OLRC website.

3.  The subject of the law.

Print:  Use the index to the United States Code, USCA, or USCS.

Online:  Search the United States Code on the OLRC website.

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: 12/31/2020