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Federal Legislative History Research



Legislative history research refers to efforts to track the progress of a bill through the legislative process and to the examination of documents created through that process. The purpose of conducting such research is to ascertain the legislative intent, that is the purpose for the legislation as intended by Congress. In the words of Morris Cohen, Legal Research in a Nutshell, 6th ed. (1996), at 160:

"The ambiguities so common in the language of statutes require lawyers and scholars to locate legislative documents from which they can learn the intended purpose of an act or the meaning of particular statutory language."


The processes that comprise legislative history are, therefore, of two distinct types: determining the meaning or intent of an enacted law, and ascertaining the status of a pending bill. The specific components of a legislative history consist of the bill and its successive amendments, remarks by the bill's sponsors, floor discussion and debate, committee hearings, committee reports and committee prints.

These documents can be researched at the Interior Library and will involve the use of a combination of print, microform, Internet resources, and other electronic databases. These sources are discussed and compared below.



Locating Compiled Legislative Histories

Three print publications offer bibliographies or lists of compiled legislative histories:

Johnson, Nancy P. Sources of compiled legislative histories: a bibliography of government documents, periodical articles, and books, 1st Congress-94th Congress. Littleton, Colo: Published for the American Association of Law Libraries by F.B. Rothman, 1979-
KF42.2 1979

Also available on HeinOnline

Reams, Bernard D. Federal Legislative histories: an annotated bibliography and index to officially published sources. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, c1994.
KF42.2 1994

Union List of Legislative Histories: 1993 supplement updates information through the 102nd Congress, 1992, 6th Edition; Littleton, Colo.: F.B. Rothman & Co., 1993.
KF4 .U55 1993 (Housed in the Law Librarian's Office)

HeinOnline's U.S. Federal Legislative History Library is a collection of full-text legislative histories on some of the most important and historically significant legislation of our time. It also includes texts related to legislative histories.


Locating Legislative Histories from Indexes and Compilations

Several multi-volume library sources provide legislative history documents and/or access points to specific documents. The sets published by the Congressional Information Service (CIS) are more comprehensive than the West Group's United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN).

Nevertheless, research in the USCCAN takes less time, involves no research in microforms or other voluminous sets of printed materials, and can provide selected hearings and reports and appropriate citations to discussion in the Congressional Record (housed on Deck Four). Use of the CIS tools can take time and will require the use of microforms and voluminous sets of legislative hearings, prints and reports in order to yield a definitive set of documents to illustrate legislative intent.

CIS Annual. Washington, D.C.: CIS, 1970-
REF KF49 .C62
Includes Index, Abstracts and Legislative Histories, and Four Year Cumulative Index volumes and provides access to CIS microfiche. Microfiche contain committee reports hearings and prints.

CIS U.S. Congressional Committee Prints Index: From the Earliest Publications through 1969. Washington, D.C.: CIS, c1980.
REF Z1223 .Z7 C65 1975

CIS Serial Set Index. Washington, D.C.: CIS, c1975-c1997.
REF Z1223 .Z7 C65 1975
Provides access to congressional documents in print set and microfiche set and includes Index and Carto-bibliography of maps, 1789-1969.

United States Code Congressional and Administrative News. St. Paul, Minn.: West Pub Co., 1944-


ProQuest Congressional Collections

The Interior Library has access to digitized collections offered by ProQuest. They cover congressional hearings that date from 1817 onward and offer digitized copies of Congressional Research Service (and earlier Legislative Reference Service) reports from 1916 to date, as well as congressional Committee Prints from 1817 onward.

Committee prints include items such as topical monographic studies; investigative field reports; analyses of bills, including comparisons with existing law; staff memoranda and reports; reports submitted to the committee by Federal agencies; directories, bibliographies, and other reference materials; statistical compilations; complete or partial texts of committee hearings; and preliminary drafts of reports and bills.

In all, the ProQuest Congressional Collections include:

  • Legislative histories, 1969 to the present
  • Bills and laws, 1987 to the present
  • Committee prints & miscellaneous publications, 1817 to the present
  • Congressional Record Bound Edition and predecessors, 1873-1999
  • Congressional Record Daily Edition, 1985 to the present
  • CRS Reports, 1916 to the present
  • Hearings, 1817 to the present
  • House & Senate Documents, 1817 to the present
  • House & Senate Reports, 1817 to the present
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1789-2003
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set maps, 1789-1969


U.S. Congressional Serial Set

The U.S. Congressional Serial Set, commonly referred to as the Serial Set, contains the House and Senate Documents and the House and Senate Reports bound by session of Congress. It began publication with the 15th Congress, 1st Session (1817). Documents before 1817 may be found in the American State Papers. In general, it includes: committee reports related to bills and other matters, presidential communications to Congress, treaty materials, certain executive department publications, and certain non-governmental publications.

During much of the 19th century, especially in the pre-Civil War era, the Serial Set included materials originating not only from the U.S. Congress but also key Executive Department publications that were published only or primarily in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is now available in a digital version, including maps and plates.

Digitized from the original print volumes in partnerships with leading academic institutions and government organizations, the set features high-resolution full-color digital images, fully searchable OCR-generated ASCII text and full bibliographic metadata for every publication. It is cross-searchable with American State Papers, 1789-1838, which contains every legislative and executive document of the 1st through 14th Congresses.


Using the Internet

The Internet provides several opportunities to access legislative materials. Several useful websites are listed below. Many of these web sites will provide links to other informative sites.



Tracking a Pending Bill

To track the status of a pending bill, use the CCH Congressional Index (housed at KF49 .C6). This is a loose-leaf service updated weekly. It indexes bills by subject and author, maintains biographies on all Federal legislators, lists the members of all committees and subcommittees, summarizes bills and resolutions, describes the voting records on each bill and describes the status of each bill with the dates for each transaction. One can conduct the same research on bill status through THOMAS, the C-SPAN Online sites, and the FDSys web sites listed above.

This Week in Congress comprises a companion newsletter to the CCH Congressional Index. A double-sided sheet highlights major legislative developments each week.


Quick Guide to Legislative Histories

The following charts describe the best sources for research regarding specific Congressional sessions and for specific steps in the legislative process.

Congress Where to Look
Comments
1st - 91st (1789-1969)
Serial Set Indexes:
  • For Rpts. & Docs: Burgundy books
  • For Hearings: Blue books
House and Senate Reports and Documents are in print on Deck 3.
Hearings will be in microfiche form, unless Library has retained a print copy.
91st(2) - present
(1970-present)
CIS Indexes (Black books)
Refer to reports, docs AND hearings.
Reports and docs in print, Deck 3.
Hearings in fiche only, unless Library has retained a print copy.
78th(2) - present
(1949 - present)
USCAAN
(Row 10A, Deck 4)
Public law text; references to legislative materials. May be edited, so check other sources.

Recent Legislation

THOMAS  (LC)
FDSys (GPO)
THOMAS and FDSys are mainly good for 103rd Congress to the present.



Legislative Research Tools Available in the Library

Legislative Process
Guide to Legislative Activity
Bill is introduced and referred to committee Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CIS Index
CCH Congress. Index
Congressional Bills & Resolutions, 1823-1873 (American Memory)
THOMAS
Committee holds hearings Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CIS Index
CCH Congress. Index
THOMAS
Committee recommends passage Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CIS Index
CCH Congress. Index
THOMAS
Congressional Calendars
Chamber debates Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
Chamber votes Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CQ Almanac
Congressional Calendars
CIS Index
THOMAS
Bill is sent to conference Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CIS Index
USCCAN
THOMAS
Presidential statements CQ Weekly Report
CIS Index
Public Papers of the President
Weekly (through 2008) or Daily (2009- ) Compilation of Presidential Documents
Law Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CQ Almanac
CIS Index
Congressional Calendars
Statutes at Large
U.S. Code
USCCAN
Veto Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CQ Almanac
CIS Index
Congressional Calendars
Public Papers of the President
Weekly (through 2008) or Daily (2009- ) Compilation of Presidential Documents
Overriding a veto Congressional Record
CQ Weekly Report
CQ Almanac
CIS Index
Congressional Calendars

Other Guides to Compiling Federal Legislative Histories

Federal Legislative History Research: a Practitioner's Guide to Compiling the Documents and Sifting for Legislative Intent by Richard J. McKinney and Ellen A. Sweet. Published by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington. D.C. Last revised in May 2006.

Electronic Sources for Federal Legislative History Documents with Years/Congresses Available by Richard J. McKinney. Published by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington. D.C. Last revised in November 2006.