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Law: US Federal Statutes & Legislative Branch

Best Bets for Legislation

Statutes are legislation as passed by a governing body. At the United States federal level, this is Congress. Statutes are “the law” as it is written. Legislators introduce bills, which may be edited and amended by committees before they are passed. Passed bills are then signed into law (or vetoed and do not become law) by the President.

U.S. Code

US Code photo - by Tony Webster


Codes are the codified version of laws--they are "the law" arranged by subject. The United States Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Code was first published in 1926. The next main edition was published in 1934, and subsequent main editions have been published every six years since 1934. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published in order to present the most current information.

Of the 51 titles, 25 have been enacted into positive (statutory) law. These titles are 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, and 51. When a title of the Code was enacted into positive law, the text of the title became legal evidence of the law. Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large still govern.

Because these standards are mainly for lawyers who are citing a particular point of law, for statutes and regulations, the best practice is to cite the codified (code) version of the law (e.g., the xx U.S.C. § xxx, xx C.F.R. § xxx, etc.) unless the law is too new to have been codified, distributed across so many codes, no longer valid, being discussed in the context of its passage, or is otherwise impractical to cite this way. For policy research, you are often citing bills or regulations that have been introduced but not passed/finalized/enacted/enrolled, or else you are citing the final version of the legislation or regulation but not the code.

Slip Laws & Statutes at Large

Statutes at Large photo - by Coolcaesar


The statutes are arranged in the chronological order in which they were passed in The Statutes at Large.

Public and private laws are also known as slip laws. A slip law is an official publication of the law and is competent evidence admissible in all state and Federal courts and tribunals of the United States. Public laws affect society as a whole, while private laws affect an individual, family, or small group.

After the President signs a bill into law, it is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where it is assigned a law number, legal statutory citation (public laws only), and prepared for publication as a slip law. Private laws receive their legal statutory citations when they are published in the United States Statutes at Large.

Prior to publication as a slip law, OFR also prepares marginal notes and citations for each law, and a legislative history for public laws only. Until the slip law is published, through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), the text of the law can be found by accessing the enrolled version of the bill.

To find the full text of a law as it was passed by Congress, you will be using the Statutes at Large. HeinOnline includes links to the laws by their popular name.

If your law is not included in HeinOnline's list of popular names, the best thing to do is Google (or other search) the name you have for the law. Most quality articles about the law will include either the public law number or the Statutes at Large citation.

You can then search the Statutes at Large for that law using that number.

Example laws by popular name

Naturalization Act of 1790
Page Act of 1875
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Scott Act of 1888 
Geary Act of 1892
Immigration Act of 1907
Expatriation Act of 1907
Immigration Act of 1917
Emergency Quota Act of 1921
Cable Act of 1922
Johnson Reed Immigration Act of 1924 
Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934
Bracero Agreement of 1942
War Brides Act of 1945
Displaced Persons Act of 1948
McCarren-Walter Act of 1952
Refugee Relief Act of 1953
Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962
Hart-Celler Act of 1965
Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975
Refugee Act of 1980


You can research the history and intent of legislation by reviewing a variety of Congressional documents and reports, as well as the introduced bills.

Senate Bills and House Bills

Congressional bills are legislative proposals from the House of Representatives and Senate within the United States Congress. There are six different types of bills.

House bills (H.R.) and Senate bills (S.) require the approval of both chambers (ie House and Senate) and the signature of the President to become law.

House Joint Resolutions (H.J. Res.) and Senate Joint Resolutions (S.J. Res.) require the approval of both chambers and the signature of the President. Joint resolutions generally are used for limited matters, such as a single appropriation for a specific purpose and to propose amendments to the Constitution.

House Concurrent Resolutions (H. Con. Res.) and Senate Concurrent Resolutions (S. Con. Res.) require the approval of both chambers but do not require the signature of the President and do not have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions generally are used to make or amend rules that apply to both chambers.

House Simple Resolutions (H. Res.) and Senate Simple Resolutions (S. Res.) address matters entirely within the prerogative of one chamber or the other. They do not require the approval of the other chamber or the signature of the President, and they do not have the force of law.

There are numerous different bill versions that track a bill through the legislative process from introduction through passage by both chambers (enrolled version). All final published bill versions are available from GPO. 

Congressional Documents

House & Senate Reports & Documents (Serial Set), Hearings, Committee Prints
Congressional Documents types include House DocumentsSenate Documents, and Senate Treaty Documents. House and Senate documents contain various kinds of materials ordered to be printed by both chambers of Congress. Documents can include reports of executive departments and agencies, as well as committee prints, that were ordered to be printed as documents. Senate Treaty Documents contain the text of a treaty as it is submitted to the U. S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States

Congressional reports originate from congressional committees and deal with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. There are two types of reports:

  • House and Senate Reports: Reports of congressional committees concerning proposed legislation and/or contain findings on matters under investigation.
  • Senate Executive Reports: Reports of the Committee on Foreign Relations relating to treaties between the United States and foreign nations which have been submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification, or are reports of various Senate committees regarding nomination of individuals.

hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest. Most congressional hearings are published two months to two years after they are held.

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the "Daily Digest," which summarizes the day's floor and committee activities.

Congressional Documents & Reports

Use these key resources to find Congressional publications

Data & Statistics

Use these resources to find data and statistics on American politics.

Issues in Congress

Reference works about Congress