Once a bill is signed into law by the President, it is published as an individual "slip law" and assigned a chronological number based on the Congress in session in which it passed. Therefore, Public Law 95-336 was the 336th law passed by the 95th Congress. Slip laws are then reprinted in the bound set called the United States Statutes at Large. The Statutes maintain the same chronological sequence as the slip laws; however, the volumes have numbers unrelated to the sessions of Congress. In which case, Public Law 95-336 can be found at Statutes at Large volume 92, page 451 and is properly cited as 92 Stat. 451.
The statutes are then organized ("codified") by subject in the United States Code. The Code compiles all the laws in effect on a given date into 53 subjects, called titles. As such, Public Law 95-366 becomes 21 USC §1001. The Code is recodified every six years and is kept up to date with an annual cumulative supplement. The United States Code Annotated is a commercially produced (Thomson Reuters) version of the United States Code which adds case notes, history, and commentary to each Code section. USCA is updated by annual cumulative pocket parts and pamphlet supplements which can be published up to a year faster than those for the official version. An online version of the Code is also available from govinfo.gov as well as other sources.
Finding Statutes By Subject
To find a law by subject, start with the United States Code database from govinfo.gov. Then update your search in the Public and Private Laws database, also in govinfo.gov, to find any new legislation on the subject. To be complete, also check the index of the print set United States Code Annotated. If you cannot find the law you are looking for in one of the govinfo.gov databases or USCA, read up on the subject in American Jurisprudence, 2nd edition (KF 75 .A47 1962 Reference). The library's print set was cancelled in 2003, but it may be a good starting point to introduce you to the online version in Westlaw (to access in Westlaw click on "Secondary Sources"). Case law governs some areas of law more than statutory law (contracts, for instance). AmJur should give you some feel for that.
- United States Code from govinfo.gov (govinfo.gov)
- The most official full text database of the United States Code. You may select a year to browse by Code title. Use the advanced search via the orange search button to click on "United States Code" to Refine by Collection, and then type terms to be searched in the full text. Bring your search up-to-date by running the same search in the Public and Private Laws database.
- United States Code from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives)
- Excellent resource from the entity responsible for maintaining and publishing the USC. Search the current version of the United States Code or download individual titles and sections. Search by keyword or specific title, section, part, etc. Prior versions back to 1994 also available by choosing the "Search in Version" option via the advanced search.
- U.S. Code (Legal Information Institute)
- Using the databases from the Government Publishing Office and the Library of Congress, LII provides browsable and searchable access to the United States Code which allows you to quickly see notes, updates, parallel CFR authorities, and related information.
- United States Code Annotated (Thomson Reuters)
- KF 62 .W45 (Reference): Most up-to-date version of the Code; updated annually and quarterly. From commercial publisher. The General Index (which is cumulative) will refer you to a title and section in the Code -- title and section numbers in the Code are exactly the same in the Code Annotated. Always remember to check a book's pocket part for the latest information. If the law passed during the current legislature, check the most recent pamphlet supplement to USCA. The USCA, but not its General Index, is also available online in Westlaw.
- United States Code (Government Publishing Office)
- Y 1.2/5: (Documents/Reference). The official subject codification of all general and permanent laws of the United States. Published every 6 years with annual cumulative supplement.
Finding Statutes by Name
To find a law by its popular name, start with one of the online versions of the Table of Popular Names. Also, print versions are shelved with the USCA and the USC. For a very recent law, you may need to search Public and Private Laws in govinfo.gov, although popular names are not always included in the actual text of the act. You may also find a reference to the bill in a newspaper article which gives the public law number. Follow the link to Public Laws on Congress.gov to see the public laws from the current congressional session (other lists of public laws available back to 1973). The Congressional Record also records the public law number when a law is passed.
- U.S. Code Table of Popular Names (Legal Information Institute)
- Alphabetical list of common names for public laws. Where possible, LII has linked each name to its section of the Code.
- United States Code Popular Name Tool (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives)
- Another alphabetical listing; scroll list or use alphabet list. Has link to PDF of Public Law and link to text in the U.S. Code.
- USCA Popular Name Table (Westlaw)
- Also an alphabetical listing; scroll list or use alphabet list. Has links to text of Public Law and text in USCA. Database only available to WTAMU students, faculty, and staff.
Finding Statutes by Public Law Number
1973 to present
Cornette Library does not receive printed slip laws (an individual pamphlet print of a single law). Therefore, to find a copy of a law before it is printed in the Statutes at Large use:
- Public and Private Laws (govinfo.gov)
- May browse the full text of all laws passed since the 104th Congress (1995-1996). Updated as new slip laws are published. Can use the advanced search to search (click on Statutes at Large under Refine by Collection before entering search terms). For more information, see About Public and Private Laws.
- Public Laws (congress.gov)
- May browse current and past Public Laws by date back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974). Includes link to current and past Private Laws, also back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974). Available as text and PDF.
- Public Laws: Numbers for the Current Session (Federal Register)
- List of public laws in the current congressional session.
If the law was passed before the 93rd Congress (1973-1974), you will need to scan the spines of the print volumes of the Statutes at Large to find the appropriate volumes. You should then check the title pages of each volume for the correct range of public laws. Once you have the correct volume and part, the "List of Public Laws" will give you the page number where the law begins.
- United States Statutes at Large, 1903 - (Documents)
- AE 2.111:vol (1984 - )
- GS 4.111:vol (1949 - 1983)
- S 7.9:vol (1903 - 1948)
- microfiche (1799 - 1948), shelved in CRS microfiche cabinet
Contains public and private laws, concurrent resolutions, and proclamations passed by Congress and signed by the President. Each volume also has a subject and name index.
- Avalon Project: Selected Statutes of the United States: Chronological (Yale Law School)
- Intended to include "digital documents relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government". Includes separate sections on Statutes Concerning Native Americans and Slavery.
- United States Statutes at Large (Library of Congress)
- Full text of the Statutes at Large for the first forty-three Congresses (from 1789 until 1875). Browsable images. Can browse the General Index (1789-1845) or use the Collections Search page (select the title Statutes at Large, index only; 1789-1873).
Updating a Public Law
To find the current status of a very recent law when you have the public law number, use the US Code Classification Tables below. For an earlier law, search one of the electronic versions of the United States Code AND check the Tables volume of USCA.
- United States Code Classification Tables (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives)
- Organizes public laws by public law number and by Code section. Use the table sorted by Public Law number to determine which sections of the Code will be affected by a particular law. Use the table sorted by Code section to find out whether a particular section of the Code has recently been amended.
- United States Code Annotated, annual.
- KF 62 .W45 (Reference). Reprints the official code but adds historical notes, cross references, references to key numbers in West's digest system, and extensive case notes. Use the Tables volumes, making sure to use all three volumes -- the bound volume, a bound cumulative supplement, and a pamphlet cumulative supplement. The Table is laid out in chronological order and will refer you from the public law number to the title and section of the USC and USCA. The Table will also tell you if the law has been eliminated or repealed. For recent legislation, remember to check the Tables section in the pamphlet supplement. WTAMU students, faculty, and staff can also search the online USCA Tables by public law number.
For More Information
- Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law
- KF 242 .A1 L376 2018 (Reference): Editors of Nolo. 18th ed. Berkeley, CA : Nolo Press, 2018
- Legal Research in a Nutshell
- KF 240 .C54 2013 (Reference): the late Morris L. Cohen, Kent C. Olson. 11th ed. St. Paul, Minn : West, 2013.
- Fundamentals of Legal Research
- KF 240 .J32 1998 (Reference): J. Myron Jacobstein, Roy M. Mersky, and Donald J. Dunn. 1998 ed. Mineola, NY : Foundation Press, 1998.