Skip to main content

U.S. Government Documents: Public Laws/Statutes

Created by Fred Muratori

Public Laws, Statutes

NOTE: Not all federal laws come from Congress. See the following two charts for information on where laws originate and how they are published.

Laws Made By Congress

When a bill becomes a law, it is given a Public Law Number and published as slip law. Also referred to as an Act or a Statute. Abbreviated as P.L. for Public Law number. The P.L. number includes the number of the Congress, e.g., P.L. 104-131, representing the 104th Congress. Public Laws are also cited by Statute, e.g., 110 Stat. 1213, representing the volume number (110) of Statutes at Large and the page number (1213) on which the text of the statute begins.

A legislative history -- a listing of Congressional documents and publications (e.g., hearings, reports, debates in the Congressional Record) related to the creation of a propsed Public Law -- is an invaluable tool for statutory research. Legislative histories can found in Proquest Congressional, as well as in:

Legislative Insight
Legislative Insight includes over 18,000 thoroughly researched legislative histories, including the full text of the enacted public law, all versions of related bills, and related Congressional Record excerpts, committee hearings, committee reports, committee prints, Presidential signing statements, and miscellaneous congressional publications. The collection has legislative histories of all laws enacted since 1970 and many important laws enacted since 1789, with a total of over 27,000 legislative histories available by the end of 2013.

Finding Aids:

Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names, Federal and State.

OLIN REF KF90 S54 + (latest edition)

Concordance of Federal Legislation. Richard A. Leiter, Adrian Sherwood White. Buffalo, N.Y. : W.S. Hein & Co., 1998. OLIN REF KF 90 L45x 1998
Provides tables that correlate individual sections of selected federal Acts with their corresponding titles/sections in the United States Code. Arranged alphabetically by Act name. Includes a finding table by statute number.

Laws are also searchable by popular name in ProQuest Congressional. From either the Basic or Advanced search screen, click on the "Index Terms" link below the search box. On the resulting screen, click on the "Popular Names" tab.


Full-text online:

CoverageNetworked Resource
1789 - present (Statutes at Large) ProQuest Congressional
Click on the Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws link. On the Keyword Search tab, click on Statutes at Large radio button. If P.L. or Stat. number is known, use the Get A Documenttab and select Statutes at Large from the document type menu.

NOTE: The "Get A Document" option only includes legislation from the 91st Congress (1969) forward.

1789 - 1875 (Statutes at Large) American Memory (Library of Congress)
1951 - 1980 (Statutes at Large) FDsys
Goes to "Additional Government Publications" page. Scroll to bottom, click on plus (+) sign next to "United States Statutes at Large (Digitized)."
100th Congress (1988) - present ProQuest Congressional
104th Congress (1995) - present FDsys
summaries; 93rd Congress (1973) - present
Latest edition of U.S. Code FindLaw
ProQuest Congressional (Choose Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws)
FDsys (Also includes editions of the USC back to 1994.)


Print/Microform Locations

CoverageLibrary Location
1973 - above microform; Lower Level microfiche 240
print; U.S. Statutes at Large, Lower Level OLIN +K U545
Last 5 volumes in Reference
every six years print; U.S. Code, OLIN REF K 62 [year] A2+ [year]