Documents produced during the creation of legislation constitute "legislative history." Disputes over the meaning or application of a statute can lead to a search through legislative history for evidence of legislative intent. The Law Library has an extensive collection of documents required to compile a legislative history, including access to an increasing number of electronic sources, both subscription based and free.
Understanding the Legislative Process
The resources listed below provide an in-depth discussion of the federal legislative process and congressional publications.
How our laws are made
, revised and updated by John V. Sullivan, Parliamentarian, U. S. House of Representatives, is available electronically on Thomas, the legislative information website of the Library of Congress, or as a printed volume in the Law Library Reference Collection (KF4945 .S9 2007).
Enactment of a law
, by Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian, U.S. Senate, February 1997, is also available electronically through Thomas.
Congressional publications and proceedings: research on legislation, budgets, and treaties
, by Jerrold Swim, is available in print through the UNC catalog (JK1067 .Z85 1988).
Using Legislative History
The following texts address the comparative value awarded to documents produced during the creation of legislation and the arguments for and against relying on legislative history as evidence of legislative intent.
Statutes and statutory construction
, 7th ed., by Norman J. Singer (KF425 .S97 2007). Thismulti-volume set, also known as Sutherland statutory construction, is updated regularly.
Legislation and statutory interpretation
, by William N. Eskridge, Jr., Philip P. Frickey, and Elizabeth Garrett. Available through the UNC catalog (KF425 .E85 2000).
A matter of interpretation: federal courts and the law: an essay
, by Antonin Scalia; Amy Gutmann, editor [et al.] (KF4552 .S28 1997).
Dynamic statutory interpretation
, by William N. Eskridge, Jr. Available through the UNC catalog(KF425 .E83 1994).
Using and misusing legislative history: a re-evaluation of the status of legislative history in statutory interpretation
. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Legal Policy, 1989. Available through the Library's Documents Collection (J 1 .96 :H 62).
To begin the process of enacting a law, a member of Congress must introduce a bill in either the House or the Senate (designated either H.R. or S., followed by a bill number, ie. H.R. 3580). Frequently, similar versions of bills will be introduced in both houses. The various versions of a bill may provide useful information about the exact meaning of the words finally chosen to express the intentions of the legislators.
To Locate Bills Online:
The Thomas website, sponsored by the Library of Congress, contains bill summaries and status updates from the 93rd Congress (1973) forward. Full text versions of the bills are available from the 101st Congress (1989) to present, and different bill versions are linked.
All published versions of bills from the 103rd Congress (1993) forward can be found on the U.S. Government Printing Office website, GPO Access. The information is updated daily.
ProQuest Congressional is available on campus computers and off-site with proper Onyen and password verification. It features bill tracking and includes the full text of bills from 1989 forward.
LexisNexis contains bill tracking and the full text of all versions of bills from the 105th Congress (1997) through the current Congress (access is restricted to authorized users by the publisher's license).
Westlaw contains full text of all versions of bills from the 104th Congress (1995) through the current Congress. Bill tracking is available from the 102nd Congress (1991) forward (access is restricted to authorized users by the publisher's license).
To Locate Bills in Print:
Older bills can be identified through the Congressional index (KF49 .C6).
House and Senate Bills
(Microfiche Y1.4/1...). The Law Library has received all versions of bills introduced from the 98th Congress, second session (1984) through the 106th Congress, second session (2000). A printed guide for locating individual bills is provided on the 1st floor documents microfiche cabinets.
Davis Library also has microfiche copies of bills through the 106th Congress in the Government Documents collection.
The final version of a bill is usually provided in the committee report and is sometimes found in the Congressional record or one of the hearings records.
In some cases, hearings on the need for the proposed legislation are held before the bills are introduced in Congress. Although these hearings are not considered of primary importance in determining legislative intent, they often contain testimony by experts in the field, and the questions asked may indicate particular concerns of legislators or may show that legislators considered some issues that are or are not reflected in the final legislation. Hearings are not held for all legislation and not all hearings are published.
Printed Indexes for Identifying Hearings:
CIS US congressional committee hearings index
. (Davis Library Reference Wall Shelf 18 Z1223 .Z7 C578). This title should be consulted for hearings held from 1833 to 1969.
CIS annual index
(KF49 .C62). This printed index can help identify hearings back to 1970.
To Locate Hearings Online:
Some committee hearings are recorded and placed on the individual committee's website.
Links to House Committee websites are available through the U.S. House of Representatives website. Similarly, links to Senate Committee websites can be found through the U.S. Senate website.
The U.S. Government Printing Office posts committee hearings beginning with the 104th Congress (1995) on its website, GPO Access.
ProQuest Congressional is available on campus computers and off-site with proper Onyen and password. It provides hearings from 1824 forward under "Congressional Publications, Advanced Search."
LexisNexis contains hearings from 1995 forward (authorized users only).
Westlaw contains hearings from 1993 forward (authorized users only).
To Locate Hearings in Print:
The Law Library has scattered holdings in paper for published hearings prior to 1985, particularly from the Judiciary Committee. In 1985, the library began collecting all published hearings in microfiche. To find a particular published hearing in the Law Library microfiche collection, search the online catalog using a keyword search. For example, search "hearing and senate and international trade and 1986." Or, perform a keyword search using the hearing number, "S. hrg. 100-402."
Davis Library has all published hearings in paper or in microform in its Government Documents collection. Those from 1976 forward are findable through the library's online catalog. The Monthly catalog (Z1223 .A18)indexes published hearings pre-1976.
Unpublished hearings are sometimes printed and sold by commercial publishers, and both the Law Library and Davis have some holdings of these unpublished hearings in microform only. In the Law Library, unpublished hearings can be found in the microfiche collection on the 3rd floor at KF40 .C54 1988. Particular unpublished hearings can be identified through indexes to unpublished house and senate hearings located on one of the index tables in the 4th floor reading room.
House and Senate Committee Reports
The House and Senate committee reports are generally considered the most authoritative documents of legislative history. When a piece of legislation is "reported out of committee," i.e. sent to the floor of one chamber for consideration, this printed report accompanies the bill, indicating the rationale behind the legislation, its scope and purpose, the way in which it would be funded, a statement of why it should be enacted, how it will affect current law, and a section by section analysis of the content of the bill. When a conference committee is formed to resolve differences between bills passed in each chamber, its report may indicate why certain sections were finally incorporated or omitted.
Indexes for Identifying Committee Reports:
The printed version of the Monthly catalog of United States government publications is particularly useful for identifying committee reports prior to 1970. Coverage from 1931 - 1976 is available in print on the first floor of the Law Library. The library also retains the most current versions available on CD-ROM at Z1223 .A18.
An electronic version of the Monthly catalog, from July 1976 to present, is available through GPO Access.
CIS annual index
(KF49 .C62). These print volumes can be used for identifying committee reports since 1970.
Superindtendent of Documents (SuDoc) Classification Number:
Federal government publications are arranged by a classification scheme called SuDoc, which was designed to group all publications created by the same author together (eg. government agency). House and Senate reports are grouped under the letter Y. The SuDoc number for House reports begins with Y 1.1/8: The SuDoc number for Senate reports begins with Y 1.1/5:
If the Senate or House report number is known, e.g. H.Rpt. 107-1, that number will serve as a guide to locating the full text in the microfiche collection on the 1st floor. Simply add that number to end of the appropriate SuDoc range in order to identify the proper microfiche. For example H. Rpt 107-1's SuDoc number becomes Y 1.1/8:107-1. (When searching for a report in the catalog, be aware that there is a space between the Y and 1.)
To Locate Committee Reports Online:
ProQuest Congressional provides searching and full text of committee reports from the 101st Congress (1990). The database is available on campus computers or by Onyen and password verification offsite.
The Thomas website contains committee reports from the 104th Congress (1995) forward and is easy to search.
GPO Access also provides the full text of committee reports from the 104th Congress (1995) to present.
Westlaw's coverage of committee reports begins with 1948 in the Legislative History database. From January 1990 forward, the database contains all congressional committee reports, including reports on bills that did not become law. This database also includes legislative history of securities laws beginning in 1933 (authorized users only).
LexisNexis contains committee reports from January 1990 to present with selected coverage of the 101st (1989) and 102nd (1991) Congresses (authorized users only).
To Locate Committee Reports in Print:
Microfiche - The Law Library has scattered microfiche holdings of committee reports before 1985 and a full collection after 1985. Davis has a full collection of published reports. The committee reports may be located in the Law Library 1st floor cabinets by using the SuDocs number identified in the CIS index or obtained through a search of the online catalog.
Search the online catalog using a keyword search including words from the committee name and/or bill title, such as, "report and senate and committee on health and mental health." Use the Sudocs number to locate the microfiche on the 1st floor of the Law Library or in the Davis Library.
US code congressional and administrative news
(USCCAN), 1951 to date (KF 48 .U58). Although USCCAN does not provide a complete legislative history, it usually includes at least one report (either House or Senate - the one the editors think most significant) for enacted legislation, identifies other reports and provides Congressional record citations. USCCAN volumes are on the 4th of the Law Library, and the USCCAN database is on Westlaw.
Committee prints are materials prepared for committee members to use while considering a bill or an issue. Prints may be prepared by the committee staff, by a congressional support agency such as the Congressional Research Service, or by private entities. Some prints provide section-by-section analysis of different proposed and/or existing law, some review a particular issue, and some contain opinions of particular committee members. Nonetheless, committee prints remain of lesser value to the legislative intent seeker when the authors are not elected legislators and because many are not published for wider distribution.
Indexes for Identifying Committee Prints:
CIS committee print index
(KF49 .C64 1980). Use this index for identifying committee prints prior to 1969. The Sudoc number provided will help in retrieving the committee print.
CIS annual index
(KF49 .C62) Consult this index for committee prints published since 1970. The Sudoc number will help in retrieving the committee print.
The Monthly catalog, in printed volumes or online, is useful for identifying committee prints. Coverage from 1931 to 1976 is available through print volumes in the Law Library at (Z1223 .A18). The library also retains the most current versions available on CD-ROM. The Monthly catalog from July 1976 forward is available through GPO Access or through Westlaw, for authorized users of that service.
To Locate Committee Prints Online:
For committee prints from the 104th (1995) to 108th (2004) Congresses, one can perform searches and locate full text of prints on ProQuest Congressional. This database is accessible from any campus computer or offsite with Onyen and password verification.
LexisNexis contains a searchable database of committee prints from 1994 to 2004 with a smaller selection from the 104th Congress. (authorized users only.)
A limited number of committee prints are available at GPO Access from the 100th Congress (1987) forward.
To Locate Committee Prints in Print:
The Law Library's microfiche collection of committee prints is complete for all published prints from 1985. The library has scattered microfiche holdings for before 1985.
If you get a Sudoc number from one of the CIS indexes, search the online library catalog by that Sudoc number to confirm local holdings, or go directly to the microfiche cabinets on the 1st floor, and check for the Sudoc number there.
The microfiche committee prints can also be located through a keyword search in the online library catalog using the committee and/or subcommittee name or words from the title of the print, such as "committee on transportation and motor carrier safety." A committee print number can be used to perform a keyword search such as "print and 106-77."
In addition to holdings in the Law Library, the UNC catalog search will show holdings for Davis library, where all published committee prints should be available.
Floor or Chamber Debates
Once a bill has been sent to the floor of either chamber, it may be debated by the members. The permanent edition of the Congressional record contains the debates, including "extended remarks," not presented on the floor, but added afterwards. These extended remarks usually appear in italics and may be of lesser value to the legislative history researcher. The value of floor debates varies, depending on the activity, but the debates are generally not considered as important as committee reports.
To Locate Debates Online:
From 1994 forward, the full text of the Congressional record is searchable at GPO Access.
Thomas contains the Congressional record from the 101st Congress (1989) to present.
LexisNexis and Westlaw contain the Congressional record from the 99th Congress (1985) forward (authorized users only).
To Locate Debates in Print:
Congressional record: proceedings and debates of the Congress.
The Congressional record comes in a permanent and daily edition. Both editions are available at the Law Library. The daily edition (KF35 .U584) can be accessed in microfiche on the 3rd floor or in print on the 4th floor. Bound volumes of the permanent edition for most years are located on the 1st floor of the library near superseded materials. Microfiche copies of the permanent edition are on the 3rd floor at KF35 .U583. Davis Library also contains these materials.
House and Senate Documents
These documents include Presidential messages, reports from administrative agencies, and memoranda from private corporations or lobbying groups - any of which may be related to pending or enacted legislation. Their value in determining legislative intent varies but these documents are generally not considered as authoritative when they are authored by persons other than legislators and because they are not published for wide distribution.
Printed Indexes for Identifying House and Senate Documents:
The Monthly catalog, in printed volumes or online is useful for identifying House and Senate documents. Coverage from 1931 through 1976 is available through print volumes in the Law Library at Z1223 .A18. The library also retains the most current versions available on CD-ROM. The Monthly catalog from July 1976 forward is available through Westlaw for authorized users only. Some, but not all, House and Senate documents published prior to 1969 can be identified by using this title.
CIS annual index
(KF49 .C62). This print index, located on one of the index tables in the 4th floor reading room, is useful for locating documents published since 1970.
The Serial set indexes (KF49 .S47 1975), located in the 4th floor reading room, can help in identifying documents prior to 1970.
To Locate House and Senate Documents Online:
ProQuest Congressional serves as both index and source for House and Senate Documents. Abstracts and indexing for these documents are available from the 91st Congress (1970) to present. Full text is available from the 104th Congress (1995) to present. This database is searchable from any campus computer or offsite with Onyen and password verification.
GPO Access provides searching and full text results of documents from the 101st Congress (1989) to present.
To Locate House and Senate Documents in Print:
Prior to the 99th Congress (1985) the library collected only selected House and Senate documents. Davis Library has a complete collection of House and Senate documents as part of the Serial set.
All House and Senate documents in the Law Library and all since 1976 in Davis can be found individually in the online catalog. Search the online catalog using a keyword search including words from the title, such as, "document and senate and social security." Use the Sudoc number to locate the microfiche on the 1st floor of the Law Library or in the Davis Library. If the document number is known, the keyword search could include it, for example: "senate and 94-259."
The print CIS index (KF49 .C62) can be used to identify a Sudoc number for a document, and that number can be searched in the catalog or used to locate documents in the Law Library. Most of the Sudoc numbers can be located in the 1st floor microfiche cabinets.
When legislation originates from the White House, it is frequently accompanied by an explanation of its purpose or rationale. When legislation is signed into law or vetoed by the President, an explanatory message or speech may be presented. Presidential messages are compiled and presented in several places.
To Locate Presidential Messages Online:
GPO Access provides access to the Weekly compilation of Presidential documents from 1992 forward. This publication is the predecessor of the Daily compilation of Presidential documents and the most comprehensive collection of presidential messages available.
GPO Access is also adding volumes of the Public papers of the Presidents of the United States, which serves as the edited version of the Weekly compilation. Currently, most of the Bush public papers have been converted and posted for searching.
LexisNexis provides the Public papers of the Presidents of the United States from March 24, 1979 forward (authorized users only).
Westlaw offers access to the Daily compilation of Presidential documents from 2000 to present (authorized users only).
To Locate Presidential Messages in Print:
Public papers of the Presidents of the United States
(J80 .A283). These print volumes are available for presidents Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Weekly compilation of Presidential documents
(J80 .A284). The Law Library has bound volumes for 1965-1995 and microfiche from 1992-2008.
Enacted public laws are first published separately as slip laws. Public laws are then published chronologically in the United States statutes at large, the first official publication of enacted laws. Public Laws are then integrated into the United States code. Because the subject arrangement of the Code may require the public law to be split to fit into its arrangement, some nuances of legislative language and some introductory material may be lost in the process. For this reason, the public law should be consulted in the search for legislative intent.
To Locate Public Laws Online:
Public laws are available on Thomas from the 93rd Congress (1973) to present and on GPO Access from the 104th Congress (1995) to present.
ProQuest Congressional provides public laws from the 100th Congress, 2nd session (1988) to present and is available from campus computers or offsite with Onyen and password verification.
Westlaw contains public laws from 1973 forward for authorized users of this service.
LexisNexis provides access to public laws from the 100th Congress, 2nd session (1988) to present for authorized users only.
To Locate Public Laws in Print:
Public laws are printed in the Statutes at large (KF50 .U58) and accessible through the index.
Public laws are also printed in the United States code congressional and administrative news 1951 to date (KF48 .U58) and are arranged by public law number.
Complied Legislative Histories
Before beginning the time-consuming process of compiling a legislative history from scratch, the careful researcher will see if someone else has already produced one.
Indexes for Identifying Compiled Legislative Histories:
(KF49 .C62). Since 1970, CIS has published separate Legislative History volumes. Check here when trying to find superlative legislative history indexing for laws enacted from 1970 to 2000.
ProQuest Congressional provides detailed indexing of all materials related to legislation from the 91st Congress (1969). This service is available from all campus computers and offsite with Onyen and password verification.
Johnson, Sources of compiled legislative histories (Reference Desk KF42.2 1979). A good first stop when searching for legislative history, this title provides citations to compiled legislative histories for the 1st through the 108th Congresses (1789-2004). After identifying a compiled legislative history from Johnson, check the online catalog to see if the Law Library has the title.
Union list of legislative histories
(KF4 .U55). This title indicates which libraries in the Washington, DC area contain compiled legislative histories; information is included about whether materials can be borrowed on interlibrary loan or must be used in-house.
To Locate a Legislative History Compliation Online:
Westlaw provides access to over two dozen compiled legislative histories for major legislation, including databases for taxation, immigration and securities laws histories (authorized users only).
LexisNexis contains many compiled legislative histories, including legislation relating to taxation, bankruptcy and the environment (authorized users only).
To Locate a Legislative History Compliation in Print:
US code congressional and administrative news
, 1951 to date (KF48 .U58). This set usually contains only one report (either Senate or House) for each law enacted but will provide references to any others published and will also give references to the Congressional record. This set is located in the stacks in the 4th floor reading room.
The Law Library has a number of multi-volume compilations of legislative histories for major legislation. A keyword search for the title of the legislation should retrieve a record and call number for such compilations.
The Law Library has on microfiche and microcards a selective collection of CIS legislative history compilations from the 87th through 96th Congresses. These public laws and their compiled histories can be identified through an online catalog keyword search of the public law number, for example, "PL 90-148." To view the entire list, you may use a call number search for "KF49 .L44." This collection is located on the 3rd floor microfiche area at KF49 .L44.
The Law Library also has CCH looseleaf binders containing microfiche with compiled legislative histories from the 96th (1979) through the 100th Congress (1988). The set is shelved on the 3rd floor microfiche area at KF42.2 .A2.
A Hein microfiche set, Hein's federal legislative histories also contains compiled legislative histories. The single volume index to the set is compiled by Reams and located on a shelf near the Hein microfiche on the 3rd floor at KF42 .H45. The set includes legislative histories compiled from the 37th Congress (1862) through the 101st Congress, second session (1990). Records are arranged in chronological order by public law number.