Types of Statutes

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

Slip laws are the laws passed by the legislature, published individually.

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. These are codes with annotations that 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. Annotated codes are available in print or through subscription databases. Members of the public can access these resources by visiting a law library.

Where to Look for Statutes

Federal statutes

State statutes

How to Find a Specific Law

Understanding statute citations

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

How to find relevant statutes

  • Look for citations in secondary sources and cases.
  • Search by keyword or browse the code. Since codes are arranged by topic, you may be able to find relevant sections on your own.

Finding Federal Legislative History

Researchers frequently use legislative history to understand what legislators intended when they enacted a law. You can read Congressional reports and bills that led to the enactment of a law on Congress.gov.  Enter the name of the law, a citation, or one or two keywords in the search box at the top. Note that by default the search only covers the current session of congress; to search all congresses (going back to 1973), choose this option in the drop-down menu to the left of the search bar. This site also features a robust Advanced Search form. See the About Legislation page for more information on legislative history and how to search it.