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Statutory Law

Statutory law can be found in two types of publications: compilations of statutes or codified laws.7 Both the compilations and the codes have the same wording, but their formats are different. A federal law is given the number of the U.S. Congress that passed it and a second number that represents the chronological order of its passage. “Pub. L. 88-352” indicates the 352nd law passed by the 88th Congress. After passage, a law is codified, or published according to its subject category. Public Law 88-352 can also be found in the United States Code, (see Law Library External Sites) where the citation is 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Remember, though, that not all laws are codified.

If you are looking for statutory law on a general subject, the code is the best place to look. A code usually has a multivolume index that includes the codified laws, which are published there with amendments integrated into the original law, as currently in force. Public laws, however, are separate entities—the original law and each of its amendments remain separate. There is no general index to them. To find a specific public (or session) law, you need to know either the Congress that passed it or the year it was enacted, because indexes are published only at the end of each session of Congress.

Legislative History Materials

To get a clearer picture of the passage of a law, the underlying legislative intent, and any political ramifications, it is often necessary to consult legislative history materials. These are primarily committee reports, hearings, and debates. Committee reports and hearings are published either as separate entities or in compilations. Debates are found in the United States Congressional Record. Again, federal legislative materials are easier to find, for most states do not actively publish these materials. To locate these state materials, find out whether the state legislative branch has a legislative reference bureau or library available to you.

The Law Library has the entire range of debates occurring on the floor of the House and Senate, beginning with the Annals of Congress (1789-1824) and including the Register of Debates (1824-37), the Congressional Globe (1838-73), and the Congressional Record (1873-).

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