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Federal Legal Research

Introduction to Federal Statutes and Code

Annotated codes are a compilation of statutes, organized by subject, that are currently in force. In addition to the statutory text, annotated codes will contain cross-references to other code sections, secondary materials, and "notes of decisions" (summaries of cases which have interpreted the statute). The code section will also include historical notes, which offer a legislative history of the statute (the session law which first enacted it and any subsequent legislative modifications).

For federal statutes, we have three major publishers:

  • West's Annotated Code (U.S.C.A)
  • Lexis' Annotated Code (U.S.C.S)
  • And the official code published by the government itself (U.S.C.)

According to Bluebook Rule 12, you must cite to the official code when possible.  If a code section has been modified,  you may need to cite to other sources if the modification does not  yet appear in the official code.

Prior to codification, federal statutes are published in two forms:

  1. As a slip law (i.e, Pub. L. 123-123).  The first number in this citation corresponds to the congressional session, the second number to the order in which the statute was enacted.
  2. As a session law (i.e., 123 Stat. 123, 2001 U.S.C.C.A.N. 123).  This is published in sets titled "United States Statutes at Large" and "United States Code Congressional & Administrative News.  These are published at the end of the legislative session and compiled in the order they were enacted.  The first number represents the volume, and the second the page number.  Refer to Bluebook Rule 12 for more information.

Citing Statutes

According to Bluebook Rule 12.2.1, if a statute has not yet been codified you must following this order when citing to alternative sources:

  1. Current unofficial code or its supplement (for example, USCA or USCS)
  2. Official session laws (such as U.S. Statutes at Large)
  3. Privately published session laws (such as USCCAN)
  4. A widely used computer database
  5. A looseleaf service
  6. An internet source
  7. A newspaper