Massachusetts

Massachusetts in the United States

Legal Materials

This entry is organized by branch of government.

This entry covers:

  • Legislative Branch
  • Judicial Branch
  • Executive Branch
  • Legislative History
  • Other Useful Information

Legislative Branch

Massachusetts Code: The Massachusetts legislature posts a free, current, unannotated edition of the General Laws of Massachusetts.

Lexis and West publish annotated editions, titled Annotated Laws of Massachusetts. These annotated editions are available on Lexis and Westlaw.

Unannotated editions are available by subscription from Fastcase and Loislaw .

Historical editions: Historical editions of the General Laws of Massachusetts are available from Lexis (annotated, starting 1992), Westlaw (annotated, starting 1987),Fastcase (starting 2008), and Massachusetts government, academic and membership law libraries. The libraries will have print editions of the General Laws back to the earliest codifications. Some libraries likely to have historical codes are listed in theQuestions and Copies section, below.

Bills and Amendments: Bills and Amendments are available online through the Bill Search posted by the General Court of the Commonwealth (186th session/2009-present). For older bills, see Massachusetts – Legislative History.

Bill Status: To check the status of a pending bill, look up the bill on the Massachusetts Legislative Tracking System. For questions, call the Massachusetts House Clerk Office (617-722-2356) or the Senate (617-722-1276).

Session Laws (a/k/a “Chapter Laws” or “Acts”): Massachusetts session laws are available from:

  1. The Massachusetts Legislature’s Session Law page (1997-present);
  2. The digitized edition of Acts and Resolves (1790-1996) posted by the Massachusetts Archives.
  3. Westlaw (MA-LEGIS for the current year; MA-LEGIS-OLD for 1987-prior year);
  4. Subscribers can get historical session laws back to 1775 from the Digital Session Laws collection on HeinOnline.

Legislative History: See below for Massachusetts Legislative History.

Judicial Branch

Opinions: The Social Law Library posts Massachusetts slip opinions from the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court and the Superior Court back to August, 1997; members get opinions going farther back. The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Librariespost links to Supreme Judicial Court and Massachusetts Appeals Court cases from 1936 to the present, plus selected lower court decisions.

Reported cases back to 1950 are searchable on Goggle Scholar. Comprehensive caselaw collections are available on Lexis and Westlaw. For information about other commercial databases, see the State Cases entry.

Supreme and Appellate Court cases are published in the North Eastern Reporter.

Dockets/Case Information: There is an online dockets/case information search available for the Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court of Massachusetts. There is an online system for the Massachusetts Trial Courts through the Trial Court Information Center too, but I was told in 2011 that only member of the Massachusetts Bar could get passwords.

Executive Branch

Internet links to Massachusetts government agencies are available through the State Web site. There is a central Web site for all Massachusetts Courts.

Internet links to other government agencies statutes, regulations, cases, etc. are posted by FindLaw and WashLaw.

Other Useful Information

Land Records: This map links to the online land records posted by the Recorder of Deeds for each county in Massachusetts.

Legal Encyclopedias: Key Massachusetts publications include Massachusetts Jurisprudence (West), Massachusetts Practice (West) and the Handbook of Legal Research in Massachusetts (MCLE New England).

News: Leading Massachusetts news sources include:

  • The Boston Globe – the big general circulation newspaper
  • The Boston Business Journal – good for articles on Massachusetts companies and business executives
  • Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly which covers legal news and provides profiles of Massachusetts state and Federal judges with lawyers’ evaluations, as well as biographical articles at the time of their appointment or election.
  • Questions, Copies and ILLs: For other questions about Massachusetts legal materials, copies and/or inter-library loans, try calling the State Library of Massachusetts (617-727-2590), the Social Law Library (617-523-0018), the Boston University law library (617-353-3151) or the Boston College law library.

    Note: We linked the resources to archive.org in an effort to decrease the number of broken links cited.

    For more U.S. state primary law resources, see:

    Legislative History

    Sources for Massachusetts Legislative History

    There are three places to get Massachusetts legislative history materials:

    (1) Online. The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website is the main site for Massachusetts legislative history materials. This is free and readily available, so get what you can. The site has Session Laws and a Session Law Index(covering enacted bills 1997-present), Bills and related Legislative Status Reports(from the 2009/10 session to the present), and House and Senate Journals starting with the 162nd Session (2001-02) for the House, and March 12, 1998 for the Senate.

    Older session laws are available free through the Acts and Resolves (1790-1996) page posted by the Massachusetts Archives, or through HeinOnline (subscription required). Session laws are searchable on Westlaw back to 1987 (MA-LEGIS-OLD). The Journals are searchable on Westlaw in the MA-LH database (House from 2001, Senate from 1998 and Joint Sessions from 2000).

    One more: The New England Law School library posts the Reports of the Legislative Research Council (1900-1988).

    (2) The Massachusetts Archives. The Massachusetts Archives has Governor’s Packets, your best bet for finding legislative intent, as well as Legislative Packets, comprised of basic legislative documents such as bill drafts and amendments, and occasionally more. Governor’s packets are available for bills introduced from 1964 to about five years ago. Legislative Packets are available from 1775. These materials are not online and the Archives does not make copies; if you aren’t in the area, you can get copies by hiring one of the research firms listed below. For questions, call the Archives at 617-727-2816 and ask for the Legislative Reference Desk.

    (3) The State Library of Massachusetts (617-727-2590). The State Library has older session laws, House and Senate Journals, bill drafts and amendments not available online. They also have an in-house Index to Legislative Reports compiled by the staff, recordings of House and Senate proceedings starting in 1980, a system called Instatract with testimony transcripts, videos of hearings, legislative news sources, etc. The State Library does not make copies; if you aren’t in the area, you can get copies from the State Library by hiring one of the research firms listed below.

    Research Firms

    Several firms regularly retrieve legislative history materials from the Massachusetts Archives and the State Library including Carol Wilkinson Support Services (617-426-6070, info@cwlegal.net), Beacon Hill Research (617-426-0550, request@beaconhillresearch.com), AccuFile (617-728-3500, contact@accufile.com) and Eva Murphy (617-504-9228, or legisearch@gmail.com). In addition, the Massachusetts State Library keeps a list of research firms and you can request the list by sending an email to reference.department@massmail.state.ma.us.

    Research Guides

    To learn more about Massachusetts Legislative History, see the “Massachusetts Legislative Procedure and History” chapter of Handbook of Legal Research in Massachusetts (MCLE New England). Online guides include Massachusetts Legal History by the Social Law Library, Massachusetts Legislative History by the State Library, and the video A Guide to Tracing Massachusetts Legislative History, also by the State Library.

    Topics Covered by the Massachusetts Legal Encyclopedia

    Note: More detailed information about this State is provided in the Massachusetts jurisdictional legal Encyclopedia, which tie together Massachusetts statutory and case law.

    Topics include:

    • Massachusetts Statutes
    • MA Cases & Case Law
    • Massachusetts Legal Websites
    • MA State Government Info
    • Massachusetts Counties
    • Massachusetts Cities
    • Massachusetts Legislation
    • MA Court Reporters/Depositions
    • Massachusetts Legal Forms
    • Massachusetts Courts
    • Massachusetts Local Court Rules
    • MA State Bar/Legal Associations
    • Massachusetts Law Enforcement
    • Massachusetts Media Sources

    Colonial Charters of Massachusetts Bay (1629, 1691)

    According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, about its article titled “MASSACHUSETTS BAY, COLONIAL CHARTERS OF (1629, 1691)”, in “1629 King Charles I granted a royal charter to Puritan leaders of the New England Company, incorporating them as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the same year Puritan leaders received authorization to migrate to New England.”

    Resources

    See Also

    Massachusetts: 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 Massachusetts. This part provides references, in relation to Massachusetts, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

    Federal primary materials about Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

    Tools and Forms

    Law in Other Regions

    *This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

    Leave a Comment