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Legislative History Research: Introduction

Getting Started

When the language of a statute is unclear or ambiguous, attorneys will sometimes look to its legislative history to try to determine the intent or purpose of the legislature in enacting the statute.  "Legislative History" can refer both to the legislative process (the steps a bill takes on its way to becoming a law) as well as the documents generated during that process.

The listed electronic resources include those available on Westlaw, LexisNexis, other subscription databases, as well as free sources. The listed print resources include books, journals and other materials available from the Law Library.

If you need further assistance, please contact one of the reference librarians:

We hope that the video below will get you off to a good start.

Other Research Guides

Steps to Researching Legislative History

The first step for using any of these sources is to find the Public Law Number for the law for which you need to track down the legislative history.  You can find it along with the text of the law in any of the codified statute sets:  the United States Code (KF 62 or online from the Web site of the U.S. House of Representatives); United States Code Annotated (KF 62 .W4 or on Westlaw); or the United States Code Service (KF 62 1972 .L38 or on Lexis). Scroll to the bottom to find the Public Law Number of the original statute and any statutes that amended it.

in order to find the Public Law Number, you first need to find statute. The Popular Names Table might be helpful. The Public Law Number will appear at the end of the statutory text (e.g. Pub.L 107-296) and will reference the number of the Congress (107th) and the chronological order in which the law was passed (296th law).  Note that if there is more than one Public Law number listed, you will have to check the legislative history for each Public Law separately.

Once you find the Public Law number, you can find the title of the bill, the chamber it originated in, and the bill number. From there, you can find legislative history documents.

After you have the Public Law Number, check to see if a compiled legislative history already exists. There's a chance that someone has already done much of the work for you!

The rest of this guide will help you track down legislative history documents, if no complied legislative history exists.

Resources for Researching Legislative History

Databases - You will need a password to access many of these, or log in from Loyola's law library website.

ProQuest Congressional - Full-text archive of the Congressional Record, Annals of Congress, the Register of Debates, and the Congressional Globe. Coverage: 1789 - present. Access through the LUC University Libraries Website.

ProQuest Legislative Insight -  Federal legislative history service that provides access to thoroughly researched compilations of full-text publications created by Congress during the process leading up to the enactment of U.S. Public Laws. Compiled histories include the Public Laws (covering 1929 to the present), along with related bills, hearings, Congressional Research Service reports, committee prints, committee reports, Congressional Record sections, and Presidential Signing Statements, with all documents available as fully-searchable PDF files. Connects to ProQuest Regulatory Insight for related administrative law and ProQuest Supreme Court Insight.

HeinOnline includes the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database as well as other documents.

Lexis and Westlaw each have a legislative history section. Westlaw also has access to U.S. Code Congressional & Administrative News.

Bloomberg Law Legislative Resources - includes bills, CRS reports, Committee reports and transcripts, Statutes at Large and the Congressional Record.

Free Resources

C-Spean Video Library - includes Congressional proceedings dating back to 1987. Content is searchable and browsable by program, topics, date, and speaker. - the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. The site provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public. It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Publishing Office, Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC’s Congressional Research Service.

GovInfo - the official source of U.S. federal government documents by the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO).

Law Librarians Society of Washington, DC has many resources for understanding legislative history, including complied legislative histories.

LII (Legal Information Institute) has the current U.S. Code, as well as a popular names table and parallel table of authorities.

A keyword search using the Library's catalog (e.g. Sarbanes Oxley legislative history), can be used to locate compiled legislative histories available in the Library. You can also check WorldCat to see if there might be a complied legislative history available at a different institution.

Rutgers Law School Congressional Documents Online - a full-text archive of selected documents of the United States Congress from the collection of the Rutgers - Camden School of Law. Hearings and Committee Prints included in this online collection date from the 1970's to 1999. Additional hearings and documents harvested from the GPO websites from 2000 forward are also included as well. The archive is a work in progress.


CALI has a lesson on federal legislative history research.

Both Lexis and Westlaw have modules about researching legislative history on their platforms.

Overview of the Legislative Process video

The above video is the first in a playlist of videos that go into more detail about each step of the legislative process. You can find the whole playlist here.


When a law is passed, it is assigned a Public Law Number. These are published in chronological order in the US Statutes at Large

Laws are then organized by topic into the US Code. Westlaw and Lexis add annotations, and publish unofficially as United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) (Westlaw) and as United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) (Lexis.)

"Positive law codification by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel is the process of preparing and enacting a codification bill to restate existing law as a positive law title of the United States Code. The restatement conforms to the policy, intent, and purpose of Congress in the original enactments, but the organizational structure of the law is improved, obsolete provisions are eliminated, ambiguous provisions are clarified, inconsistent provisions are resolved, and technical errors are corrected." - from

Public Law Citation

See Bluebook Rule 12.4, Session Laws.

Subject Guide

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Leah Whitesel
Reference Librarian
Philip H. Corboy Law Center
25 E. Pearson St.
Chicago, IL 60611

How Laws are Made Infographic

visual representation of the law-making process

created by Mike Wirth & Dr. Suzanne Cooper Guasco, 2010

You can also find a larger version of the image here.