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Federal Legislative History Materials

What is Legislative History?

A legislative history is a collection of documents created by the U.S. 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 a useful tool for construing statutory language and determining legislative intent. Legislative history is persuasive authority and is never binding on 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.  If one does not exist, you may have to identify and gather the documents listed above on your own and since that is 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

Other Resources