Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library
Search all guides

Finding Statutes

This research guide introduces basic concepts of statutory research, and provides introductory information on how to locate the statutes of U.S. federal and state jurisdictions.

Contents

Key to Icons

  • Georgetown restricted access
  • On Westlaw
  • On Lexis
  • On Bloomberg
  • PDF Document
  • More Info Available (hover)

Introduction

A statute is a written law enacted by a legislature. The statutes you will deal with most frequently in United States law are federal and state statutes. There are also local (i.e., city or county) statutes, usually called ordinances.

When a bill is passed by the legislature, a statute is issued in a form called a slip law. The slip laws of a session of the legislature are collected in a chronological publication known as session laws. Finally, the laws are arranged by subject in a code. Codes are kept up-to-date in print by pocket parts and supplements. There are both federal and state versions of slip laws, session laws, and codes, though they may go by different names in different jurisdictions.

If you have a citation to a statute, you can use the citation information to quickly locate it in print or electronically. If you don't have a citation, however, you may be able to find a statute by its title (e.g. "Affordable Care Act") by using a popular name table for your jurisdiction. Otherwise, you can use the subject index to the jurisdiction's code, which is nearly always found in the last volume(s) of the code. It is also possible to search the full text of federal or state statutes online using Lexis or Westlaw. Lexis and Westlaw may even provide electronic versions of a popular name table or index for your jurisdiction. For most jurisdictions, current statutes are also available for free on the web, although this approach is best if you have either a citation or some exact language from the statute. Ask a reference librarian for more information, or refer to our federal legislative history research guide or our individual state research guides.  For some states, we also have an "in depth" research guide.

Our Statutory Research Tutorial has additional information about federal and state statutes.

Federal Statutes

Federal laws are issued by Congress in slip law form immediately after they become law, and are made available on the web, Lexis, and Westlaw immediately after they are passed by Congress.

After the slip laws are issued, the laws of each session of Congress are printed together in volumes called "session laws." The official version of the federal session laws is called the United States Statutes at Large. Another version of the session laws is a series called the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.)

Finally, federal statutes are officially "codified" (meaning they are compiled and arranged by subject) in the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S. Code also comes in two annotated versions called the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.), and the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.). The unofficial versions come out much more quickly than the official versions, and contain notes, references and certain other features which are designed to make them easier to use. However, in scholarly and court documents, you must cite to the official version, provided it has the current text of the statute. Refer to your Bluebook for further citation information.

State Statutes

States also issue slip laws, session laws, and codes in print. State laws are available on Lexis andWestlaw shortly after they are passed by the state legislature. In addition, most states have recent session laws and the state codes on the web. Some states have both an official version and unofficial code. Others have only one version.

Citations & Sources

Here are some examples of statutory citations that you might encounter as you do your research, as well as select locations where you can find them. More information is available in our federal legislative history research guide (and in the legislative history reference chart), as well as in our state research guides. For complete listings of citations and sources of statutes and laws for each state, refer to your Bluebook

Federal

 
Abbreviation What it Means Location
Pub. L. Public Law Internet: Congress.govFDsys

Also printed in the United States Statutes at Large (below).

Stat. United States Statutes at Large
(session laws, official)

KF50 .U5

Electronic

Internet: FDsys

U.S.C.C.A.N. United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (session laws, unofficial) 
(published by West)

KF48 .U54

Westlaw

U.S.C. United States Code (official code) KF62 2012 .A2

Internet: United States Code (Office of the Law Revision Counsel); Popular Name Tool
U.S.C.A. United States Code Annotated (published by West) KF62 1927 .A3

Westlaw (U.S.C.A. IndexPopular Name Table)
U.S.C.S. United States Code Service (published by Lexis) KF62 1972 .U5

Lexis


Selected States

 
Abbreviation What it Means Library Location
Cal. Stat. Statutes of California (official session laws)

First Floor, Media Services (microfiche)

HeinOnline

Cal. Legis. Serv. California Legislative Service (unofficial session laws) KFC 30.5 .W41
Cal. [subj.] Code (West [year]) West's Annotated California Codes (code) KFC30.5 .W4

West

Cal. [subj.] Code
(Deering [year])
Deering's California Codes, Annotated (code; published by Lexis)

KFC30.5.D4 

Lexis

D.C. Stat. District of Columbia Session Law Service (session laws)


KFD1230 2001 .A23

HeinOnline

D.C. Code  West's District of Columbia Code (code)
 

KFD1230 2001 .A2
D.C. Code (LexisNexis [year]) Lexis District of Columbia Code (code) KFD1230 2001 .A4

Lexis

Del. Laws Laws of Delaware (session laws)

First Floor, Media Services (microfiche)

HeinOnline

Del. Code Ann. Delaware Code Annotated (code) KFD30 1953 .A24
Ill. Laws Laws of Illinois (official session laws)

First Floor, Media Services (microfiche)

HeinOnline

Ill. Legis Serv. Illinois Legislative Service (unofficial session laws)

KFI1230 1934 .A41

Ill. Rev. Stat. Illinois Compiled Statutes (official code) KFI1229 .I44
Ill. Ann. Stat. West's Smith-Hurd Illinois Annotated Statutes
(unofficial code)
KFI1230 1993 .A4
Md. Laws Laws of Maryland (session laws)

KFM1225 .A213

HeinOnline

Md. Code Ann. Maryland [subject] Code Annotated (code)
KFM1230.5.M6 M37
Va. Acts Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (session laws)

KFV 2425 .A213

HeinOnline

Va. Code Ann. Code of Virginia Annotated (code) KFV2430 1950 .A3

 

Additional Resources

Update History

Revised October 2007 (SK)
Updated August 2010 (TV) 
Updated April 2015 (AG)