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Pritzker Legal Research Center

Federal Legislative History

Sources and strategies for performing federal legislative history research.

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.