Federal Legislative History Sources

Federal Legislative History Sources in the United States

Online federal legislative history publications & Bluebook citation rule numbers

GPO Access:

  • Congressional Bills & Resolutions : 1993 to date as PDF files
  • Congressional Committee Reports : 1995 to date; includes Senate Executive Reports (PDF files)
  • Congressional Record Daily & Permanent editions  : Daily ed., 1995 to date in PDF;
  • Citation formats – Bluebook rule 13.5 : Daily ed. Index, 1983 to date;Perm. ed., 106th Cong., 1st sess., 1999
  • Committee Prints : Limited PDF coverage from 1997 to date
  • House & Senate Documents : 1995 to date; includes Treaty Documents
  • Congressional Hearings : Selected coverage of official House and Senate hearings, 1997 to date in PDF
  • GAO Reports : 1995 to date PDF file;
  • Citation format – Bluebook rules 15.1.3(a), 15.1.3(c) & 15.3(a) : Daily/latest month GAO update; : 1975 to date GAO PDF archive (includes selected earlier coverage)
  • Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents & Public Papers of the Presidents : 1993 to date PDF file for Weekly Compilation;
  • Citation formats – Bluebook rule 14.7(b) : Public Papers, 1992 – 2001 PDF

Library of Congress – Thomas & American Memory :

  • Congressional Bills & Resolutions : 1989 to date, GPO Access PDF files begin at 1995; Am. Mem., selected image files, 6th – 42nd Cong., 1799 – 1873
  • Congressional Committee Reports : 1995 to date, GPO Access PDF; Am. Mem., selected Serial Set image files (23rd – 64th Cong., 1833 – 1917)
  • Congressional Record Daily & Permanent editions  : Daily ed., 1989 to date (1995 to date in PDF);Biweekly Index;Permanent ed. image files, 43rd Cong., 1873 – 75 (Am. Mem.)
  • Congressional Globe : Am. Mem., facsimile image files, 23rd – 42nd Cong., 1833 – 73
  • Register of Debates : Am. Mem., image files, 18th Cong., 2nd sess. – 25th Cong., 1st sess., 1824 – 37
  • Annals of Congress : Am. Mem., facsimile image files, 1st – 18th Cong., 1st sess., 1789 – 1824
  • House & Senate Documents : Am. Mem., selected image files from Serial Set, 23rd – 64th Cong., 1833 – 1917
  • Congressional Hearings : Congressional committee major hearings transcripts, official and unofficial, are often first available at committee websites – linked from the THOMAS homepage

Westlaw:

  • Congressional Bills & Resolutions : 1995 to date
  • Citation formats – Bluebook rule 13.2(a) : No
  • Congressional Committee Reports : Selected edited coverage of enacted legislation, 1948 -1989; full coverage, 1990 to date
  • Congressional Record Daily & Permanent editions  : CR – Daily ed. 1985 to date, index and History of Bills and Resolutions not included
  • Congressional Hearings : Selected, unofficial coverage of oral testimony and witness written statements from Federal Document Clearing House, 1993 to date
  • GAO Reports : GAO-RPTS – 1994 to date – from Federal Document Clearing House
  • Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents & Public Papers of the Presidents : WCPD – 2000 to date
  • Compiled Full Text Legislative Histories : Arnold & Porter collection – includes 27 major contemporary federal statutes

LexisNexis & Congressional :

  • Congressional Bills & Resolutions : 1989 to date
  • Congressional Committee Reports : CMTRPT – Selected full text, 1990 – 1992; complete coverage, 1993 to date
  • Congressional Record Daily & Permanent editions  : RECORD – Daily ed. 1985 to date, index and History of Bills and Resolutions not included
  • Committee Prints : CMTPRN – Selected coverage, 1995 to date
  • House & Senate Documents : HSDOCS – 1995 to date; excludes Treaty Documents
  • Congressional Hearings : Selected, unofficial coverage of oral testimony and written statements provided by Federal Document Clearing House, 1993 to date and Federal News Service, August 1988 to date
  • GAO Reports : GAORPT – 1994 to date – from Federal Document Clearing House (LexisNexis only)
  • Citation format – Bluebook rules 15.1.3(a), 15.1.3(c) & 15.3(a) :
  • Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents & Public Papers of the Presidents : PRESDC – March 24, 1979 to date
  • Compiled Full Text Legislative Histories : LexisNexis provides selective coverage of major federal statutes

HeinOnline:

  • Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents & Public Papers of the Presidents : 1965 – 2004,Weekly Compilation, facsimile image files
  • Citation formats – Bluebook rule 14.7(b) :

Major finding aids and guides to compiled legislative histories

CIS Index to Publications of the United States Congress

CIS Index to Publications of the United States Congress (LexisNexis) is the premiere bibliographic source for identifying and locating the official publications of Congress from 1970 to date. It is updated monthly and accompanied by a full text microfiche service also dating from 1970 that contains all Congressional publications except bills and resolutions and the Congressional Record. In addition to its publication in a two-part, index and abstracts, print version, the CIS INDEX is also available online from LexisNexis as a monthly updated module in its Congressional service.

A system of year-specific CIS “accession numbers” serves to uniquely identify every document covered by the INDEX, enabling retrieval of document abstracts (in print or online) and full text copy from the microfiche collection. Publication search options include controlled subject, Congressional committee, title, witness (for hearings), organization name and bill, report or document number. Bibliographic records retrieved electronically from Congressional include full-text links to the documents when, variably dating from the 1980’s and 90’s, they are available in databases on LexisNexis. Note, however, that these are unofficial versions, not the official texts published by the U.S. Government Printing Office and identified by CIS accession numbers.

Excluding hearings testimony, the unofficial texts are also directly accessible on Congressional in a full-text, keyword-searchable “Publications” database that is augmented by coverage of bills and resolutions and the Congressional Record. A separate “Testimony” database affords keyword and witness name searching and retrieval of the unofficial hearings testimony.

The CIS Index includes a very helpful compiled legislative history module that claims exhaustive coverage of the official documentary record of the passage of all Public Laws enacted by Congress since 1970. The compilations are searchable by Public Law number, Statutes at Large citation, enacted bill number, keyword or controlled subject and statute popular name. For the years 1970 to 1983 only statute summaries, publication citations and CIS accession numbers are given but since 1984 the CIS abstracts have also been included. Links are generally provided to unofficial full-text versions of cited documents if they are available on LexisNexis. The CIS Index legislative history module can also be accessed directly from LexisNexis. The Source path is: Legal>Legislation & Politics – U.S. & U.K.>U.S. Congress>Legislative Histories.

CIS Historical Indexes and Indexes to Unpublished Hearings

CIS Historical Indexes and Indexes to Unpublished Hearings, 1789-1980 (Lexis Nexis) is a major compilation of retrospective bibliographic records of Congressional documents that consolidates several LexisNexis Academic & Library Solutions (formerly CIS) print indexes and abstracts for publications of Congress from 1789 to 1969 and also includes coverage of unpublished hearings, currently updated to 1980. It is available as a module on Congressional and as a LexisNexis database (CISHST – same Source path as the CIS Index) and like the CIS Index is accompanied by “accession number” identified, full text official documents on microfiche.

Historical Indexes contains no separate compiled legislative history module but a combined Congress number and bill number search will retrieve records for all the documents included in the database that are associated with a legislative measure. Bill numbers for Congressional session laws are provided by the Statutes at Large.

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books 1st Congress – 105th Congress; Compiled by Nancy P. Johnson (Rothman, 2000; updated irregularly) – This extensive checklist of federal legislative history compilations covers both official and unofficial publications that contain either full text or edited reports, hearings or debates and also provides citations to major secondary sources that offer significant discussion and analysis of the legislative history of specific statutes. The checklist is arranged in Public Law number order. Entries are also accessible by statute popular name or short title.

Federal Legislative Histories

Federal Legislative Histories: An Annotated Bibliography and Index to Officially Published Sources; Compiled by Bernard D. Reams, Jr. (Greenwood Press, 1994) – This guide includes over 250 federal legislative histories compiled by official sources – Congressional committee staff, the Congressional Research Service and federal executive agencies. Coverage ranges from the 37th Congress (1862) to the 101st Congress, 2nd session (1990). Public Laws included, however, date from the 4th Congress (1796). Indexes provide access by Public Law number, statute popular name, bill number and author.

Bill tracking sources

THOMAS Bill Summary & Status

This free-access Library of Congress database affords up-to-date and comprehensive bill tracking of Congressional bills and resolutions from the 93rd Congress, 1973 to date. Searching by “Stage in Legislative Process” as well as by “Bill, Amendment or Public Law Number” is provided. Listed by date are all committee and floor actions, including not only the floor votes documented by the Congressional Record but also “reported out of committee” voice votes recorded in committee reports. References to hearings and reports by number are given as are links to roll call votes (since 1989), Congressional Record floor debate and amendments (since 1989) and full text committee reports(since 1995).

LexisNexis Congressional

The bill status coverage of this service is comparable to that of THOMAS but begins later – 101st Congress, 1989. Its detailed bill tracking reports include links from document citations to the full text if the latter are available on LexisNexis. Select the “Bills” module and search by sponsor, keyword or bill number.

Congressional Record Index (History of Bills and Resolutions)

The Record’s biweekly Daily edition index contains a “History of Bills and Resolutions” section arranged by House and Senate bill and resolution numbers. For each bill it contains a chronological list of legislative actions that includes dates and citations to Record page numbers. The History of Bills does not provide references to hearings. It can be searched as a separate application back to 1983 on GPO Access, where it is updated daily and cumulates from the beginning of each session of Congress. Unlike other online bill tracking sources, however, it provides no links to the Congressional Record or to full text committee reports.

The History of Bills and Resolutions is chiefly useful for historical legislative history research. It has been included in the Permanent edition index since the inception of the Congressional Record in 1873. Unfortunately, online coverage of the Permanent edition Record is currently very limited – only the 43rd Congress, 1873-75, available on the American Memory web site of the Library of Congress, and the 106th Cong., 1st sess., 1999 (Vol. 145), recently posted by GPO Access.

Congressional Index (CCH)

Beginning with the 75th Congress (1937-38) and updated biweekly, this looseleaf service provides basic and readily accessible bill status information, including sponsor(s), date of introduction and committee referral, dates of hearings and floor debate, recorded votes and the report numbers of any published committee reports for a given bill. No Congressional Record cites are provided.

Calendars of the U.S. House of Representatives & History of Legislation

GPO Access provides PDF files of final Calendars dating from the 104th Congress and the daily Calendar for the current Congress. The daily issue, available by 8:00 A.M. when the House is in session, records the history of all bills and resolutions under consideration by the Senate as well as the House. Coverage includes committee reports and floor activity but not hearings, searchable by bill/resolution number, bill popular name and subject. Congressional Record page citations are not given. Though infrequently consulted, the daily Calendar is perhaps the most up-to-date source for Congressional bill status information.

House & Senate Journals

(1789 to date) – The only publication mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the Journals – not the Congressional Record – provide the official record of the daily legislative proceedings of the House and Senate, including voting records and a “History of Bills and Resolutions” but not debates or speeches. Published at the conclusion of each session of Congress, the Journals are chiefly consulted for the pre-Record historical legislative history information they provide. Indeed, for the legislative activity they document, the Journals are both more complete and often more accurate than the privately published predecessors of the Congressional Record – the Annals of Congress, the Register of Debates and the Congressional Globe, 1st-42nd Congresses (1789 – 1873).

Secondary source current commentary

CQ Weekly

This magazine contains informative articles discussing the purposes of major federal legislative initiatives and the political issues determining their progress through Congress. At the close of each calendar year the weekly issues are recompiled in a bound annual volume with a new index and republished as the Congressional Quarterly Almanac Plus (1945 to date). CQ Weekly is also a Harvard users only E-Resource providing coverage that dates from 1983. It affords boolean searching of articles and floor votes by word, phrase or bill number, “latest vote” retrieval by subject and also topic browsing by date.

National Journal

This weekly magazine is an influential source of analytical articles covering lobbying and Executive branch and Congressional actions as they relate to significant legislative initiatives. It is available on LexisNexis (NTLJNL) with coverage since January 1, 1977 to date and on Westlaw (NATJNL) from March 23, 1996 to date. Congress Daily, an electronic newsletter, is another National Journal Group publication that can be helpful to legislative history researchers, particularly for its “insider” accounts of committee hearings and markup sessions.

Congress Daily coverage on LexisNexis (CNGDLY) runs from June 3, 1991 to date and on Westlaw (CONGDLY) from June, 22, 1994 to date. Also, A.M. and P.M. editions of Congress Daily (CongressDaily) are available, respectively, from March 23, 1995 and June 22, 1994 on Factiva.

Bills and Resolutions

A proposed law may be introduced into either chamber of the Congress as a bill or a joint resolution. When a bill or a resolution is introduced, it is ordered to be printed and referred to one or more committees for review. Multiple versions of the same bill are not uncommon since each time a bill is successfully amended, or when it is introduced into the other house after passage in the first, a new version of the bill is required to be printed.

The sequential numbering of bills for each session of Congress began in the House with the 15th Congress (1817) and in the Senate with the 30th Congress (1847). For these bills, the researcher may consult the bill’s number in the index of the appropriate Journal (House or Senate) to determine the ultimate fate of the proposed legislation.

Resolutions are also legislation, but unlike bills they may be limited in effect to the Congress or one of its chambers. Simple resolutions relate to the operations of a single chamber or express the collective opinion of that chamber on public policy issues. Concurrent resolutions relate to the operations of Congress, including both chambers, or express the collective opinion of both chambers on public policy issues. Unlike simple and concurrent resolutions, joint resolutions are considered to have the same effect as bills and require the approval of the President. However, only joint resolutions may be used to propose amendments to the Constitution, and in this instance do not require the approval of the President. Thus, the Bill of Rights was introduced as a joint resolution in the 1st Congress and did not require the approval of the President, while the legislation annexing Texas and granting it statehood was introduced as a joint resolution but did require presidential approval.

American State Papers

The American State Papers, comprising a total of thirty-eight physical volumes, contain the legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838. The collection includes documents that cover the critical historical gap from 1789 to the printing of the first volume of the U.S. Serial Set in 1817. The books are arranged into ten topical classes or series:

  • Foreign Relations
  • Naval Affairs
  • Indian Affairs
  • Post Office Department
  • Finances
  • Public Lands
  • Commerce and Navigation
  • Claims
  • Military Affairs
  • Miscellaneous

The compilation, printing, and distribution of the Papers took place from 1831 to 1861 and the thirty-eight volumes contain 6,278 documents. Not all of the classes contain documents from the entire 1789-1838 period. Every volume contains an index and all but one has a table of contents, both with machine-searchable transcriptions.

The Introductory Notice in the first printed volume of the American State Papers cites legislation on its development. Further legislation concerning this title may be found in other documents in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.

U.S. Serial Set

The United States Congressional Serial Set, commonly referred to as the Serial Set, began publication with the 15th Congress, 1st Session (1817). Documents before 1817 may be found in the American State Papers.

The Serial Set contains the House and Senate Documents and the House and Senate Reports. The reports are usually from congressional committees dealing with proposed legislation and issues under investigation. The documents include all other papers ordered printed by the House or Senate. Documents cover a wide variety of topics and may include reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, executive-branch materials were also published in the Serial Set.

The serial number is a unique number applied to each book in the series of congressional publications running consecutively from the 15th Congress. The serial number may be useful for locating items, but not for citation. The documents and reports series have three numbers:

  • an individual report or document-publication number,
  • a volume number of each series for each session of Congress, and
  • the serial number.

Documents and reports can be located using the volume or serial number but should be cited using the publication number and Congress and session number.

Federal Legislative History Sources: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Federal Legislative History Sources. This part provides references, in relation to Federal Legislative History Sources, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Federal Legislative History Sources by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Federal Legislative History Sources and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Federal Legislative History Sources or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Federal Legislative History Sources and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Federal Legislative History Sources. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Federal Legislative History Sources should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Federal Legislative History Sources when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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