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Pritzker Legal Research Center


Standout Summer Research Resources

A Guide to Prepare for Summer Associateships and Beyond

Legislative documents ranked by usefulness

These are the documents that may be available in a legislative history in order from most persuasive evidence of legislative intent to least persuasive evidence.  This is not a hard and fast rule.  If you are pressed for time or faced with too many things to read, this ranking may help you prioritize what to read.

  1. Public Law
  2. Conference Committee Report (if one exists; if it discusses your issue)
  3. Committee Report
  4. Congressional Record (floor debate, most persuasive if bill sponsor is speaking)
  5. Bill or Resolution
  6. Committee Hearings (watch out to make sure it's a member of Congress testifying)

Research Strategies

A.     Identify the law for which you need to perform a legislative history

1.    If you have the Public Law number, you’re ready

2.    If you have a U.S. Code cite, you need to look up your cite and consult the historical note or credits following the text of the provision.  Here it will give you the Public Law number of the law(s) that enacted your provision.  If there is more than one, you need to consult each Public Law to determine which one enacted/added the language of the section with which you’re concerned.

B.    Check a source of compiled legislative histories for an already-compiled history (such as the GAO collection, HeinOnline’s collection, etc.).  Law review articles might have also already surveyed the legislative history of a particular law.

C.    If there doesn’t appear to be an already-compiled legislative history, check ProQuest Congressional to identify the documents related to your Public Law.

D.    Generally, start with committee reports (especially a conference committee report, if there is one), and floor debate (especially by sponsoring legislator(s)).

E.    If under a time constraint, consider a “quick-and-dirty” legislative history:

1.    Using Statutes at Large (if the law is from 1976-present), identify the major pieces of the legislative history listed following the text of the law.

2.    Using USCCAN (if the law is from 1948-present), read the full-text of the selectively included legislative history contained therein.

Compiled Legislative Histories

Don't reinvent the wheel! In many cases, legislative histories have already been compiled for major laws. Check these resources for starters:

Full or Partial Listings of Documents in a Legislative History

Sources for Individual Legislative Documents

Many of the resources discussed in the prior pages, such as Congress.gov, Proquest Congressional, HeinOnline, and WestlawNext, can also be used to find individual legislative documents (in addition to compiled histories or listings of documents).  Here are a few more to consult when you have a particular document to look for.