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Federal Legislative History Materials   Tags: federal, legislative history  

Last Updated: Jul 24, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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What is Legislative History?

A legislative history is a collection of the documents created by Congress or a state legislature during the process of enacting a law or rejecting a proposed law. Legislative history provides evidence that members of the legislative body were aware of particular facts and includes comments and recommendations of committees and individual members of the legislative body.

Legislative history is useful as a tool of statutory construction, when the wording of the statute is vague. Legislative history is persuasive authority. It is never binding upon a court.

Federal legislative history documents show congressional intent. The documents which can make up a legislative history include:

  • Committee Reports
  • Bills and Amendments
  • Hearings
  • Committee Prints
  • Debates
  • Presidential Messages

The first place to begin legislative history research is to search for a compiled legislative history (see tab above).  If not, you might have to compile key documents listed above but since this can be a time-consuming process. It is always best to look for a compiled legislative history first.



How to Use this Guide

If you are looking for an identified document, e.g. a house report, use the sources of legislative history chart for full-text document coverage. If you are looking for a legislative history for a particular law, start with the compiled legislative history tab.  

Selected Legislative History Resources

Legislative history resources.

  • LexisNexis  
    Allows access to CIS Index, CIS Serial Set and selected compiled legislative histories for major legislation. Personal password required.
  • Westlaw  
    Has a variety of resources including extensive U.S. GAO Legislative Histories and the Arnold & Porter Collection. Personal password required.
  • GPO/FDsys
    The GPO's Federal Digital System's (FDsys) has many sources available, such as hearings and reports, if you need to compile a recent legislative history.
  • HeinOnline
    Compiled legislative histories.
  • Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. Inc.
    A list of compiled legislative histories freely available on the web.
  • Proquest Congressional
    Provides access to source documents and a legislative histories index from 1970 to present and full-text of some legislative history materials.
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980  
    Database provides historic legislative reports and documents with ongoing file expansion.
  • C-Span's Congressional Chronicle
    Provides streaming video broadcasts of House and Senate sessions, debates, and selected hearings, some as far back as 1987.
  • Federal Legislative History Research Guide
    The Law Library's Federal Legislative History research guide explains the process of finding or compiling a legislative history and lists resources for finding legislative documents.
    Find legislative history information by browsing by public law number.

Other Resources

Additional Resources:

How to Trace Federal Legislation from the Law Library of Congress, posted Jan. 2014.

BC Law Library Federal Legislative History Guide

Longer, more complete guide to finding legislative history materials (including print materials) in the Boston College Law Library collection.

Drake Law Library Legislative History Guide

Thank you to Karen Wallace who allowed us to use portions of the above mentioned guide when putting together this Federal Legislative History Materials guide.


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