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Federal Legislative History Research: How to Locate Legislative History Documents

The legislative process, the documents generated by each step, and resources for finding Congressional documents.

The basic information you need before you start

Identify the public law number, Statutes at Large citation, or the originating bill number (with Congress and date).

How to find a Public Law Number or Statutes at Large citation?

  • Look in the History or Credits of a specific section of the United States Code
    • United States Code Annotated (USCA), Popular Name Table
      • Westlaw Database Name – USCA-POP
    • United States Code Service (USCS), Table of Acts by Popular Name
      • Lexis File-Name: USNAME
    • United States Code (open access, Office of the Law Revision Counsel)
    • GovInfo (open access)


How to obtain a bill number

  • The citation for the originating bill (and date of enactment) can be found in the margin of the first page of the law’s appearance in Statutes at Large.


Westlaw (three methods of researching legislative history)

  • From the Credit(s) of an annotated code section, select a Public Law citation. Choose "Legislative History Materials" to access the legislative history documents associated with the bill. 
  • From the History tab of an annotated code section, choose "Graphical Statutes" to see references to prior texts, legislative history documents, and proposed legislation.
  • While viewing an annotated code section, from the History tab, choose "Legislative History Materials" to access legislative history materials relevant to a statute section, such as committee reports, floor testimony, and executive messages

Other Useful Information

  • Beginning with the 88th Congress (after 1963), following the end of the text of the law in Statutes at Large there is a very brief compiled history containing  a few citations to selective legislative documents. 

  • For materials relating to bills introduced before 1970 you can find bill numbers using Statutes at Large back to 1903 (in print, HeinOnline, ProQuest Congressional, or Lexis)
  • For older laws, use Nabors' Legislative Reference Checklist: The Key to Legislative Histories from 1789-1903 (Reference KF49 .L43 1982 and HeinOnline > U.S. Federal Legislative History Library)
  • Getting the bill number(s) will help you locate committee reports, transcript of debates or floor discussion, hearings, and committee prints


Lexis (four methods of researching legislative history)

  • From the link to a Public Law citation in the “History” of an annotated code section (in Lexis Advance or
    • Use any of the Stat citations or the P.L. citations to access the Bill Tracking Report from the right hand side (after clicking on the Stat./P.L.) citation
      • The Bill Tracking Report links to legislative history documents (mostly the Congressional Record)
  • Lexis Advance: to find committee reports and hearings
    • Pull up the current version of the statute.
    • Click on Results List (upper right).  This will link you to a search for the citation, instead of the document that matches the citation.
    • Then narrow to Statutes and Legislation and, under category, select multiple, Congressional Record and Legislative Histories.
  • Lexis Advance > Content Type > Statutes and Legislation > Legislative Histories
  • > Legislative & Regulatory Resources tab