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First Year Legal Research Guide: Statutes and Codes

Accessing Codes in Print

The United States Code Service (U.S.C.S) is shelved on the 3rd floor of the Library at call number KF62 1972 .L38, and the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.), is shelved at call number KF62.W4 on the 3rd floor, and a second set is on the 4th floor at the same call number.  See the map below for the location of the U.S.C.A. on the 4th floor in relation to the stairwell.

Floor Map Codes

U.S.C.S.

U.S.C.A.

Contrasting U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S. (print)

There are some differences between the two unofficial versions of the U.S.C.: 

  1. U.S.C.A. seeks to be comprehensive in its case annotations, including every relevant case that discusses the statute, while U.S.C.S. includes only selected cases in its annotations.
  2. While both print sets include references to related administrative regulations, only U.S.C.S. includes references to cases decided by administrative law courts (print U.S.C.A. does not).
  3. While both sets include references to law journal articles, ALR annotations, and AmJur articles, there are differences in the coverage of secondary source materials in the annotations.  Since U.S.C.A. is published by West, you will find references to print treatises published by West, but not to those published by Lexis.  Additionally, CJS is included only in U.S.C.A.  Likewise, since U.S.C.S. is published by Lexis, it will contain references to print treatises published by Lexis but not those published by West.  
  4. Since it is published by West, U.S.C.A. has references to the West Topic and Key Number System, while U.S.C.S. does not.

Therefore, if you have access to both U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S., it's a good idea to check a statute in both sets to ensure that you aren't missing a potentially relevant source.

CALI LibTour - U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.

As part of their LibTour podcast series, CALI created this brief introduction to the U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.

About Statutes

Statutes are laws written and enacted by the legislative branch of government. Most new laws are created through statutes (as opposed to being created by judges through case opinions); therefore, it is important that you realize that you will frequently begin your research projects by looking at a statute, rather than at cases.

At the federal level, each statute is published in three versions. First, a statute is enacted as a slip law, which is the statute by itself on a single sheet or in pamphlet form. When a slip law is published, it will be assigned a Public Law Number to identify it. The Public Law Number (e.g., Pub.L. No. 112-25) consists of two parts:  the first number represents the number of the Congress that passed the law; the second number represents the chronological order in which the law was passed. In the above example,Pub.L. No. 112-25 is the 25th law passed by the 112th Congress.  Slip laws/Public Laws are available in print or online through the Library of Congress' Congress.gov site.

Next, the statute is published as a session law. Session laws are the slip laws bound chronologically by Congressional session (each Congress lasts two years and is divided into two sessions). The Statutes at Large is the official U.S. government compilation of federal session laws.

While it's important to acknowledge the existence of slip laws and session laws, there are several problems with researching statutes using these formats:

  1. Usually you will be searching by subject, and neither slip laws nor session laws are arranged by subject.
  2. A statute may cover several subjects, and the subject matter you are looking for may not be apparent from the title of the statute. For example, would it be obvious from looking at the title of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 that this statute includes tax law provisions? 
  3. Each time a statute is amended, a separate Public Law must be passed, so you may have to read through several slip laws to get the complete and current version of a statute's language.
  4. Finally, from looking at slip laws or session laws, there's no way to tell if a statute has been repealed.

Therefore, when researching, you'll want to use the third version of a statute, which is published in a code. A code arranges the statutes by topic (rather than chronologically), indexes statutes to allow for subject access, and incorporates any amendments and repealed language to always give you the current picture of the law.

About Codes

The official codification (i.e., the version published by the U.S. government) of federal statutes is the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S.C. is broken down into 53 subject Titles, with each Title representing a major subject area (e.g.,Banks and Banking, Labor, Transportation). The newest Title (Title 54) covers the National Park Service and was just added in December 2014 (note - there is currently not a Title 53). The U.S.C. is published in full every six years, but cumulative bound supplements are issued each year in between that allow you to update. Publication may lag several years; for example, the Library didn't receive the complete set of 2006 bound volumes until 2009. Because of these long delays, and because the U.S.C. doesn't contain any explanatory material to help researchers understand the statutory language, it's more effective to use an unofficial code. An unofficial code is a commercially-published version of an official code - for legal research. Unofficial codes include references (called "annotations") to primary and secondary sources that relate to each code section, and are updated much more frequently than the U.S.C. 

There are two unofficial code print versions of the U.S.C.: United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A., published by West) and the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S., published by Lexis). Both sets include the entire U.S. Code, as well as other material (e.g., the Constitution, Federal Court Rules, Federal Rules of Evidence). All of the contents are annotated, with references to case law and secondary sources (such as law reviews, treatises, and ALR annotations) that interpret the statutory language, plus there are cross-references to related regulations. Both versions also include multi-volume indexes at the end of the set, along with a Popular Name Table that allows searching for a Code section when you know the name of the statute (e.g., the USA PATRIOT Act, Megan's Law). Both versions also include volumes that contain tables showing parallel references for Public Laws, session laws, and code sections. Both versions are updated annually with pocket parts and/or softbound pamphlet supplements (just as we saw with the digests), and both include advance legislative service volumes that show changes to the Code sections in between the times when the pocket parts are issued. You can also use an online citator to determine if a statute is still valid and to find cases and other materials that analyze or interpret the statutory language. Use KeyCite (in Westlaw) for the U.S.C.A and Shepard's (in Lexis) for the U.S.C.S.

How to Cite Codes - Examples

Rule B12.1.1 (Bluepages) of The Bluebook (20th edition) covers how to cite to U.S. federal statutes in non-academic legal documents. Per this rule, a full citation of a federal statute includes three elements:  1) the official name of the act;  2)  the published source in which the act can be found; and 3) a parenthetical indicating either i) the year the source was published (used for codes) or ii) the year the statute was passed (used for session laws). The Bluebook provides the following example:

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675 (2012).

For additional guidance on citations of individual statutory sections and subsections, see rule 3.3 (Whitepages).

Whenever possible, cite the official code for statutes currently in force (although note that it's best to use the unofficial code versions for research). A citation of an official or unofficial code includes the following components:  1)  the title number;  2)  the abbreviated name of the code; 3)  the section numbers in which the act is codified; and 4)  the year of the cited code edition (not the year the act was passed). Citations of an unofficial code (such as the U.S.C.A. and the U.S.C.S.) must also include the name of the publisher in the date parenthetical.  The Bluebook provides the following examples in rule B12.1.1 (Bluepages):

         1 U.S.C. §1 (2012).

         15 U.S.C.A. § 205 (West 2008).

Rule 12.3.2 (Whitepages) of The Bluebook covers how to cite to statutory language that appears in a pocket part or a supplement for a code volume. According to this rule, use the year that appears on the title page of the pocket part or supplement. If there is none, provide the latest copyright year of the pocket part or supplement. In either case, if the date spans more than one year, provide all included years. The Bluebook includes the following example for rule 12.3.2 (Whitepages) (note this is a citation to a state code):

IND. CODE ANN. § 29-1-5-3.1 (West Supp. 2003).

Rule 12.3.2 (Whitepages) also notes how to cite to materials that appear in both the main code volume and a supplement or pocket part (per rule 3.1(c) in the Whitepages). The following example is provided under rule 12.3.2 (note this is again a citation to a state code):

VT.STAT.ANN. tit. 12, § 892 (2002 & Supp. 2004).

Rule 3.1(c) (Whitepages) includes this example:

42 U.S.C. § 1397b (1982 & Supp. 1 1983).

Rule 12.5 (Whitepages) explains how to cite a code contained in an electronic database. Per this rule, give parenthetically the name of the database and the currency of the database as provided by the database itself (rather than the year of the code). Also provide the name of the publisher, editor, or compiler per rule 12.3(d) (Whitepages) unless the code is published, edited, compiled by, or under the suprevision of government officials.  The Bluebook includes the following examples:

18 U.S.C.S. § 1956 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 113-108).

18 U.S.C.A. § 1956 (Westlaw through Pub. L. No. 113-93 (excluding Pub. L. No. 113-79)).

Subject Guide

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Patricia Scott
Contact:
Director, Law Library & Clinical Professor of Law

Philip H. Corboy Law Center

25 E. Pearson St.

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 915-8515

Online Annotated Codes

Each of the major online subscription services has its own annotated code, and each allows researchers to perform full-text keyword searches. However, when searching in online annotated codes, it's important to remember that statutes are not individual documents; rather, they are part of a larger scheme. Therefore, it's a good idea to take advantage of the Table of Contents feature in any online code. The Table of Contents will allow you to browse for related sections (especially definitions sections), as well as view a single statutory section in the context of related sections. As for the annotations to related, non-statutory material, each service differs slightly.

  • When you find a relevant statutory section while searching in Bloomberg Law's United States Code database, click on the "Smart Code" tab to view cases that interpret the statutory language. For some areas of law, Bloomberg Law also provides tabs that link you to related CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) provisions, secondary sources, and other administrative agency materials. Keep in mind that Bloomberg Law is still developing its annotations, so you may not find as much interpretive material in Bloomberg Law as you would in the other online annotated codes. Also keep in mind that, from the Table of Contents view in Bloomberg's U.S.C. database, you have access to the U.S.C. Popular Name Table (at the bottom of the screen).
  • To access the online version of the U.S.C.S. in Lexis, type "United States Code Service" in the main search box. USCS - United States Code Service - Titles 1 through 54 will auto-complete; click on "USCS" to search it by keyword, or click on "View Table of Contents" to see the Code's Table of Contents.
  • Westlaw's USCA database includes an index and Popular Name Table (both found on the right side of the screen under "Tools & Resources"). When you click on a statutory section, you will see the following tabs that allow you to access the annotations: "Notes of Decisions" (cases that interpret the statutory language, grouped by subject); "Citing References" (citations to additional interpretive cases, cross-references to related statutes and administrative law materials, and secondary sources); and "Context & Analysis" (citations to law review articles, ALRs, legal encyclopedias, and the West Key Number System). The "History" tab displays the history of the statute, including cases and proposed legislation that may negatively affect the statute (look also for KeyCite flags), as well as legislative history material.