United States Code

United States Code (USC)

Note: the United States Code is available here.

Practical Information

A compilation of all general and permanent laws of the United States arranged under general subject headings with a detailed index. Annual supplements are published. United States Code Annotated is a publication arranged in parallel fashion to United States Code. It gives federal and state decisions pertaining to each law in the code. Revised volumes are issued periodically. See slip laws (in U.S. law) and statutes at large (in U.S. law). (Revised by Ann De Vries)

Citation Notes

The federal United States Code (abbreviated ‘USC’) is divided into titles. It is necessary to indicate the title number (before the abbreviated code name) when citing the USC, because the section numbers are non-consecutively numbered (that is, they begin again in each title). For example, 42 USC and 36 USC each contain a (different) § 3. Title, chapter, volume, etc, numbers in state codes are generally included after the abbreviated code name as part of the pinpoint reference where the code is a subject matter code (dealing with only one area of law) or is organised by, for example, title, but contains chapters, volumes or sections that are numbered consecutively throughout the code.

Title 51 and Further

After more than eight decades of 50 titles in the U.S. Code, there is a new title. Bill H.R. 3237 was signed by President Barack Obama in December 18, 2010, and became Public Law 111-314. Title 51, also known as “National and Commercial Space Programs,” is a compilation of existing general law related to space programs.

The Office of Law Revision Counsel explains:

“Over the past five decades, a substantial amount of legislation was enacted relating to national and commercial space programs. In the United States Code, some of these provisions appeared in title 15 (Commerce and Trade), some in title 42 (The Public Health and Welfare), and some in title 49 (Transportation). No distinct title for national and commercial space programs existed in the United States Code because the organizational scheme for the Code was originally established in 1926, before such programs were contemplated.

Public Law 111-314 gathers provisions relating to national and commercial space programs, and restates the provisions as title 51, United States Code, “National and Commercial Space Programs”. Public Law 111-314 does not provide for any new programs. Nor does it modify or repeal any existing programs. Rather, the Act restates existing law in a manner adhering to the policy, intent, and purpose of the original enactments, while improving the organizational structure of the law and removing ambiguities, contradictions, and other imperfections.”

In fact, Titles 52 – 55 are also in the works. These proposed titles are:

  • Title 52 Voting and Elections,
  • Title 53 Small Business,
  • Title 54 National Park System and
  • Title 55 Environment.

As with Title 51, these titles will be comprised of exiting law and will become positive law upon enactment.


Starting in 2010, the House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) began a pilot project, called the USCprelim (now dead), to update certain titles of the U.S. Code on the website throughout the year as laws affecting those titles are enacted, rather than waiting until the end of the congressional session. Although these titles are also prepared from the same database used to prepare all other versions of the Code, they are posted to the website as a preliminary release, before all editorial notes have been added and before all work has been thoroughly reviewed. Thus, it should be expected that the preliminary release will be subject to further revision before it is released again as a final version. Nevertheless, the preliminary release should be useful to those seeking a more current version of the law. As with other online versions of the Code, the U.S. Code classification tables should be consulted for the latest laws affecting the Code.

The idea, in part, was that the U.S. government would post a relatively current edition of the United States Code, after the e-CFR proved successful. At the time, House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel was focused on the worthy goal of reducing the time lag for incorporating new laws into the official US Code to about a year.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel launched USCprelim with the online publication of Title 26 containing the Internal Revenue Code, current through Public Law 111-237 (August 16, 2010). In the website, the user could view the updated IRC by section or group of sections, specify the title and section or other subdivision, or search by words or phrases using boolean and proximity connectors. Additional search options included:

  • Concept (searches for documents statistically related to your query)
  • Relate (suggests words related to your query, based on co-occurrence within database)
  • Fuzzy (suggests words spelled similarly to the first word in your query)
  • Dictionary (verifies existence and popularity of a word in the database)

There were a Help page for details.

Legal Materials

The official United States Code is compiled by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) and published every six years, with annual updates. The GPO sells unannotated print editions of the official Code, but most people use the annotated editions or the free Internet editions, discussed below.

Free Internet Editions: The official electronic edition of the USC is prepared and posted free by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) of the U.S. House of Representatives. The OLRC also posts the Code in .PDF format.

Other free editions with additional features are posted by Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, FindLaw and the GPO’s FDsys. Note that these electronic editions are not current, but the Web sites all provide ways of locating the new legislation that affects each section. I think the Legal Information Institute site makes it relatively easy to identify updates.

If you have access through a state bar association, Casemaker and Fastcase provide more current editions with good searching.

Annotated Editions: The annotated editions of the U.S. Code are: the United States Code Annotated (USCA), by Thomson/West; and the United States Code Service(USCS) by LexisNexis. Both sets are excellent. For more about the annotated USCS, click here.

For more information, see “Fee-based Databases,” below.

Fee-Based Databases: Unannotated versions of the USC are available on Lexis(GENFED;USC), Westlaw (USC), Bloomberg Law, LOIS, Fastcase and Versuslaw.

For more about the annotated USCS, click here.

The unannotated versions of the code on CQ Roll Call and Bloomberg Law (both available only by subscription) are updated within a month or so of the date new legislation takes effect.

Additional sources for the U.S. Code are discussed in the LLSDC’s Legislative Sourcebook; scroll down to the link called “Electronic Sources for U.S. Statutes and the U.S. Code.”

Historical Editions: Historical editions of the unannotated USC are posted free back to 1988 by the Office of Law Review Commission and back to 1994 on FDsys. Westlaw offers historical editions of the USCA back to 1990 (USCAxx, with the “xx” being the last two digits of the relevant year). Lexis offers historical editions of the USCS back to 1992. HeinOnline subscribers can get historical editions back to the 1925-1926 edition. Bloomberg Law goes back to 1994.

Alternatively, and for older editions of the Code, many large academic and government law libraries keep old sets of the U.S. Code. I know that the New York County Lawyers’ Association library has historical editions of the U.S. Code, at least back to the early part of the century, and maybe earlier. You can call in a request (212-267-6646, x204,-5,-6 or -7), and they will copy sections and fax. You could also call the Law Revision Counsel at the House of Representatives (202-226-2411). The University of Baltimore law library has historical editions of the unannotated, official United States Code, which is published every four years (410-837-4570 phone; fax requests to 410-837-4570).

Pending Legislation: House and Senate bills generally state exactly where they would change the text of the U.S. Code, although seeing the impact can be difficult. To make this easier, CQ Roll Call and Potomac Publishing each offer “Legislative Impact” databases that display the relevant Code sections as they would be affected by pending bills.

To identify pending and/or recently enacted legislation that could affect a Code section, run a Shepard’s or KeyCite report on the section.

Public Laws: The citation for the Public Law(s) that created and/or amended each section of the Code are listed in the annotations after the section in the USCA or USCS. For information on how to get the full text of a Public Law, see “Public Laws.”

If you have a Public Law number and you want to see where it has been put into the U.S.C., use the sources listed in the separate entry for “Public Laws.”

For a discussion of Federal legislation and the USC, see Fundamentals of Legal Research (West).

Missing Sections: If you have a citation for a section that seems to be “missing,” check the “Revised Titles” section at the end of the USCS to see if it has been renumbered. Also, remember that the Code contains only law that are permanent (not temporary) and of general impact (not specific, such as naming a post office). And some laws are inserted into the Code as Notes or Appendices (discussed below). For more information, see Will Tress’ “Lost Laws: What We Can’t Find in the United States Code,” 40 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 129 (2009-2010).

Notes and Appendices: The Office of Law Revision Council (OLRC) puts several kinds of “Notes” at the end of some Code sections. If a Congress doesn’t specify where a Public Law should go in the Code, the Office sometimes puts it into a Note at the end of a related code section (or into an Appendix at the end of a title). You would officially reference this text by the Public Law number, but unofficially you could use the format: xx USC xxxx note. To see if the law was repealed, look in a current edition of the Code or check “Table III – Statute at Large” (available on the United States Statutes and the United States Code page of the LLSDC Legislative Sourcebook. Laws codified in Notes and Appendices are have the same legal force as laws codified in their own Code sections, see The Authority of Statutes Placed in Section Notes of the United States Code by Rick McKinney.

The OLRC also adds editorial notes to explain the codification, to note errors in an enacted law, to explain an amendment or to clarify the effective date of the section. The notes also list the Public Laws enacting and amending the related code section and provide and may cross reference other Code sections or related executive orders.

Popular Names: Many statutes have “Short Titles” or “Popular Names” (e.g., the “Hart-Scott-Rodono Act”), and you can look up where they are codified using a “Popular Name Table.” Popular name tables are posted by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel and the Legal Information Institute. You can also find a Popular Name Table at the end of the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service, available in print and online through Westlaw (USCA-POP) and Lexis, respectively (click here for information about searching the PNT on Lexis).

Predecessor Publications: The Revised Statutes of 1873 and 1878. The U.S. Code has a predecessor publication called the “Revised Statutes.” The original Revised Statutes was introduced in the House of Representatives in 1873, enacted in 1874 and published in 1875. It is known as the “Revised Statutes of 1873, though the official title is the Revised Statutes Passed at the 1st Session of 43d Congress, 1873-1874, Embracing Statutes, General and Permanent in Nature, in Force December 1, 1873). It was published as Part I of Volume 18 of Statutes At Large.

The Revised Statutes of 1873 was soon corrected and amended and re-published as the Revised Statutes of 1878. I read that the government published a replacement Volume 18 of Statutes At Large when the Revised Statutes of 18 came out.

You can find a clunky scanned edition of the Revised Statutes of 1873 posted free at the bottom of the Statutes at Large, 1789-1875 page of the Library of Congress’ American Memory collection. More usable editions of the Revised Statutes of both 1873 and 1878 are available on HeinOnline. Some academic and large government libraries still have the print.

In 1926, Congress published the Code of Laws of the United States of America of a General and Permanent Nature in Force December 7, 1925, which is now known as the first edition of the United States Code.

United States Code Background

National Housing Act–United States Code Annotated Database

This is a database related to interests in and transfers of real estate, in the following material: Statutes and Legislative Materials. A description of this real estate database is provided below:

Sections of the USCA in which the National Housing Act is codified, as found in the Housing and Development Reporter Reference Files.

Further information on United States legal research databases, including real property databases, are provided following the former link.


See Also

  • Federal Bills
  • United States Congress
  • Federal Legislative History
  • Government Publishing Office (GPO)
  • Public Laws
  • Internal Revenue Code
  • IRS Regulations

Further Reading (Books)

  • Cohen, Morris, Robert C. Berring, and Kent C. Olson. How to Find the Law. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1989.
  • Jacobstein, J. Myron, Roy M. Mersky, and Donald J. Dunn. Fundamentals of Legal Research. 7th ed. New York: Foundation Press, 1998.
  • U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Law Revision Counsel. http://uscode.house.gov/uscode.htm.

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

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

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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