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ASRC 4304/6340: Critical Race Theory: Statutes

Introduction to legal research for Critical Race Theory.

Types of Statutes

Statutes are laws enacted by the legislature. Statutes are published in several formats: session laws, statutory codes and annotated codes.

Session laws are the chronological compilation of slip laws passed by the legislature during a legislative session. An act on agriculture could be followed by an act regulating zoos, depending on the order in which the laws were passed. The session laws contain the official text of the law as passed by the legislature. Session laws of the U.S. Congress are compiled in a set called Statutes at Large (abbreviated in citations as Stat.)

Statutory codes are the subject arrangements of enacted laws currently in force. The U.S. Code organizes the laws into 52 subject areas called titles and further arranges them by numbered sections in each title.

Commercially published annotated codes. Many researchers begin by determining if a statute is relevant to their issue and advocate turning to an annotated statutory code as the first research step. Why? Because the annotations include the history of the section of the law (when it was enacted and dates of subsequent amendments), cases that interpret the law, and citations to regulations promulgated under the law, law review articles about the law and other research aids.There are two annotated versions of the US Code: United States Code Annotated (USCA) and United States Code Service (USCS). The USCS is available on LexisNexis Academic.

Commercially published codes are not the official law of the jurisdiction, but annotated codes mirror the official codes so the text of the statutes in both sources is the same. However, legal researchers opt for annotated codes due to the editorial enhancements and frequent updates to the print volumes provided by the publishers.

How to Find a Specific Law

Finding statutes by citation

A three-part citation format tells you where to find a statute in the code for your jurisdiction:

Title Number Name of Code Section Number
42 U.S.C. § 1983

To find a federal statute in the USCS using the citation:

  1. Go to the United States Code Service on LexisNexis Academic.
  2. Check the box next to your title number (for example, Title 42).
  3. Type the section number in the Quick Find box (for example, 1983).

Your section should be one of the first search results (if not, use the Sort box to sort by Relevance).  When you click on the link for your statute, you will find the text of the statute as well as brief descriptions of some of the cases that discuss the statute.

For more information about using LexisNexis Academic to find statutes, see Common Legal Assignments (PDF download) from LexisNexis Academic.

Finding Federal Legislative History

Researchers frequently use legislative history to understand what legislators intended when they enacted a law.  Cornell students, faculty, and staff can read Congressional reports, hearing transcripts, and bills that led to the enactment of a law on ProQuest Legislative Insight.  Enter the name of the law (e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964) or one or two keywords describing the Act in the search box.