Legislative history research at the federal level involves compiling documents leading up to a specific U.S. public law's enactment. Researchers, attorneys, agencies, and courts might use legislative history to determine the congressional intent of a particular section of a statute, especially if the plain language of the statute is ambiguous.
Compiled legislative histories save researchers time because documents have already been gathered. If a compiled legislative history is not available, researchers use various sources to pull together a complete legislative history.
Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories
- HeinOnline U.S. Federal Legislative History Library includes many compiled legislative histories, and points to print compiled legislative histories
- ProQuest Congressional includes CIS Legislative Histories (1969-present)
- Legislative Insight compiles histories for enacted public laws, with links to scanned full-text documents.
- United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.) compiles citations to major legislative history documents and includes text of one committee report along with the enacted law (1948-present). Available in print and on Westlaw (USCCAN).
- Print compilations for major legislation may be available in the Law Library. Example: Legislative History of the 1909 Copyright Act (6 vols.) KF2989 .58.
Major Types of Legislative History Documents
H.R. 4954, 109th Cong., (as introduced by House, Mar. 14, 2006).
S. 2459, 109th Cong., (as introduced by Senate, Mar. 27, 2006)
GPO - FdSys (1993-)
GPO - Thomas (1989-)
ProQuest Congressional (1989-)
Westlaw (1995-) (CONG-BILLTXT-ALL)
H.R. Rep. No. 109-447 (2006)
H.R. Rep. No. 109-711 (2006) (Conf. Rep.)
GPO - FdSys (1995-)
GPO - Thomas (1995-)
ProQuest Congressional (1817-)
Lexis (1990-) (LEGIS;CMTRPT)
||The Safe Port Act: Hearing on H.R. 4954 Before the Subcomm. on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Cybersecurity of the H. Comm. on Homeland Security, 109th Cong. (2006).||
GPO - FdSys (1995-, select Senate 1985-1988)
ProQuest Congressional (1824-)
152 Cong. Rec. H2,107 (daily ed. May 4, 2006).
HeinOnline (permanent ed. 1789-2006, daily ed. 1988-)
Committee prints and documents
Staff of H. Comm. on Homeland Security, 109th Congress, An Examination of Federal 9/11 Assistance to New York: Lessons Learned in Preventing Waste, Fraud, Abuse, and Lax Management (Comm. Print 2006).
GPO - FdSys (1995-)
ProQuest Congressional (1830-)
Lexis (1994-2003) (LEGIS;CMTPRN)
|Presidential Signing Statements||
||Presidential Statement on Signing the SAFE Port Act, 42 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1817 (Oct. 13, 2006).
GPO - FdSys (1992-)
Lexis (1979-) (LEGIS;PRESDC)
Westlaw (1986-) (USCCAN-MSG)
Other Useful Documents
If you are doing an in-depth legislative history, it can be helpful to consult relevant secondary sources for background information. For example, issues related to the SAFE Port Act were addressed in:
- John F. Frittelli, Cong. Research Serv., RL 317330, Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues for Congress (2005).
- Pamela M. Prah, Port Security, 16 Cong. Q. Researcher 337-360 (2006). (restricted access)
- Newspaper articles in major US newspapers
Each state has their own process and availability of documents. For links to legislative information for all fifty states, visit the Mauer School of Law Library's State Legislative History Research Guides on the Web.
Several libraries have research guides for California Legislative History: