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Federal Legislative History: Start

What Is a Legislative History?

A legislative  history is a compilation of documents produced at each stage of the legislative (congressional) process.

How Is a Legislative History Used?

Legislative history documents may be used:

To aid a court in its interpretation of statutes, but only if:

  • The statutory language is unclear on its face;
  • No statutory canons exist to guide the court in its interpretation; and
  • There are no existing judicial or federal agency interpretations of the statutory language


to track a pending bill as it moves through Congress.

Beginning Your Legislative History Research

Your legislative research will be much easier if you locate as much as possible of the following information for each act:

  1. its Public Law number (or chapter number for laws passed before 1957);
  2. its location in the U.S. Statutes at Large;
  3. the date of enactment;
  4. the number of the House or Senate bill and Congress that was enacted.

Your online searching will be more precise if you use them; you will retrieve less irrelevant material.

Legislative History Steps

Step One

Find the public law number or citation to its publication in the U.S. Statutes at Large (Pub.L. 107-147, 116 Stat.21).

Find from 

  1. U.S. Code Section, statutory history (in parentheses below section text) or 

  2. U.S. Code, Popular Names table; or 

  3. Title search of the act (public law) in the databases listed below

Step Two

Find the bill number and Congress (H.R.3090 or S.211 from the 107th Congress

Find From:

Public Law in the databases listed below

Helpful Titles

CALI Legislative History Research Instruction (Lessons)

‚ÄčTo obtain the access code for these lessons, visit and enter access code "AMERICstu4"