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Legislative History Research Guide : Federal Legislative Research

The legislative history of a law is comprised of the documents created during deliberations leading to the law's enactment. They are used to determine the legislature's intended purpose and to clarify any ambiguities in the language. - Gail Whittemore -

Start With a Bill

Types of proposed legislation may be introduced in Congress:

1.  House (H.R.) and Senate (S.) bills require the approval of both chambers (i.e., House and Senate) and the signature of the President to become law.
2.  House (H.J. Res.) and Senate (S.J. Res.) joint resolutions require the approval of both chambers and the signature of the President. Joint resolutions are used for single appropriations for specific purposes or to propose amendments to the Constitution.
3.  House  (H. Con. Res) and Senate (S. Con. Res.) concurrent resolutions require the approval of both chambers but do not require the signature of the President and do not have the force of law. Concurrent resolutions are used to make or amend rules that apply to both chambers.
4.  House (H. Res.) and Senate (S. Res.) simple resolutions address matters entirely within one chamber or the other. They do not require the approval of the other chamber or the signature of the President, and they do not have the force of law.

Finding Bills

To research legislative history, you must find the bill(s) that were enacted into law. Bills introduced in the House are assigned sequential numbers preceded by the number of the Congress in which they are introduced, in the order in which they are introduced and are preceded by "H.R.". Bills introduced in the Senate are assigned sequential numbers preceded by "S.". You can find bills by topic online at Congress.gov (1973-current) and on the following websites. For bills not online, the Law Library has Congressional Bills & Resolutions on microfiche from the 96th Congress (1979) through the 110th Congress (2008).

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of proceedings and debates in the U.S. Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session and includes bill texts and amendments read before Congress, and all motions and other procedural matters. It also publishes presidential communications, memorials, petitions, and other information on legislation introduced and/or passed in Congress. The Congressional Record Index (CRI) is published biweekly when Congress is in session.

Pace Law Library has the Congressional Record on microfiche from 1789 forward.

Finding Hearings

Senate, House, joint, or special committee congressional hearings are held to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct investigations, or oversee the activities of government departments and agencies. Hearings are also used by Congress to gather information in preparation for future legislation. Hearings are generally open to the public. Hearing transcripts include live testimony, texts of prepared statements submitted by witnesses and committee members, and exhibits.

The House of Representatives and Senate websites contain links to all congressional committees and their hearings. Some committees only post hearing schedules, while others provide links to transcripts and live webcasts. 

Transcripts of congressional hearings prior to 1985 are not available online, but are in Pace's microfiche collection. The CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Hearings Index (KF49 .C642) can be searched by subject for hearings from 1833-1969. The CIS Index Annual contains citations to hearings held on new laws, and full-text hearings for most congressional committees are in the Law Library's microfiche collection.

Finding Congressional Committee Reports

Congressional committee reports discuss the background and purpose behind bills they consider and are considered to be the most valuable parts of a legislative history. Congressional reports are included in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, which contains all House and Senate Reports and Documents beginning with the 15th Congress in 1817. Citations to committee reports are found in the CIS Annual (1970-). Congressional reports can be found in full text from 1789 to the present in the microfiche collection at Pace Law Library.

Conference reports contain the final text of a bill as reconciled by members of both the House and Senate in a conference committee. Conference reports usually contain a joint explanatory statement or explanation of the committees' process in reaching agreed language.

Selected committee reports are printed in full text in the Legislative Histories section of the U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) (in print and also on Westlaw) beginning in 1944.

Finding Committee Prints

The CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index (KF49 .C64 Law Ref. Microform) includes citations to the first committee prints through 1969; the CIS Index and CIS Index Annual (KF49 .C62 Law Ref. Microform) include citations to committee prints from 1970 forward. The full texts of committee prints can be found in the Law Library's microfiche collection.

Finding Congressional Documents

Congressional documents form a loose category of papers ordered printed by the House or Senate in connection with legislation. Documents cover a wide variety of topics and may include reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations.

Congressional documents can be found on microfiche in the Law Library and in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. The CIS U.S. Serial Set Index (Z1223.Z9 C65 Law Ref. Microform) is a multi-volume set, searchable by subject, bill number, and document number.

Presidential Communications

The President issues statements or public remarks to accompany the action he takes on bills sent to him by Congress, explaining his reasons for signing or vetoing the bill. While these statements are called veto messages or signing statements, their official titles generally do not use those terms; they may be called "statement on signing," "memorandum of disapproval," or merely "remarks."

The Federal Register is the official daily publication of executive orders and other presidential documents. It is available in the Law Library microfiche collection. The Federal Register is also available online at FDsys( (1994-) and in HeinOnline (1936-) (requires Pace Portal username & password). It is also available in WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. The Federal Register is codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, which also publishes the Compilation of Presidential Documents (all available in print at Pace Law Library).