The official code for federal statutes is the United States Code (U.S.C.). A new print edition is published every six years and updated annually between editions with a cumulative supplement. If you are citing a federal statute currently in force, The Bluebook dictates that you cite to the United States Code if it contains the current version of a statute (Rule 12.3).
There are also two unofficial codes for federal statutes: United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) and United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.). These are both updated in print multiple times a year. Because Congress enacts news laws and amends and repeals existing laws frequently, you will often need to cite to one of these unofficial codes because the current version of a statute does not appear in the United States Code yet.
Students at the Georgetown University Law Center can find print copies of the current United States Code, United States Code Annotated, and United States Code Service, in the Williams Law Library Reading Room.
A citation to a statute in the United States Code generally contains the following four elements:
Here is an example:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012)
*It is important to note that the date in a citation to the United States Code is the year of the code edition cited as it appears on the spine of the print volume or the title page. It is not the year a statute was enacted or last amended.
In addition to this basic citation, you may need to include the name of the statute in some limited instances. According to The Bluebook, you may add the name of a statute as it appears in the session law if (1) you are citing to an entire act as codified in the United States Code, (2) if the statute is commonly cited that way, or (3) if the information aids in identification of the material cited (Rule 12, p. 120, and Rule 12.3.1(a)). If you are citing to a specific provision, you may also need to include the original section number from the session law.
For example, the statute above (17 U.S.C. § 107) was originally enacted as part of the Copyright Act of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-533, 90 Stat. 2541, which is currently codified in Title 17 of the United States Code. This specific provision (§ 107) was Section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976. Therefore, if you needed to cite the entire Copyright Act of 1976 as currently codified in the United States Code or if it is necessary to include the name and original section number of Section 107 in a particular citation, the citations would be as follows:
Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-1332 (2012)
Copyright Act of 1976 § 101, 17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012)
This same rule applies if you are citing a federal statute in an unofficial code (see below) and for state statutes.
In most instances, you do not need to include the name of the statute. However, if you cannot figure out whether you need to include the name of a statute in a citation or if you do not know how to find the name, ask your professor or visit the Reference Desk.
A citation to a federal statute in one of the unofficial codes is essentially the same as a citation to the United States Code with the addition of the publisher (Rule 12.3.1(d)) and Table 1):
As you can see in Table 1, the United States Code Annotated is published by West and the United States Code Service is published by LexisNexis, so citations to statutes in each of these unofficial codes are as follows:
17 U.S.C.A. § 107 (West 2015)
17 U.S.C.S. § 107 (LexisNexis 2016)
*Again, the date in the citation is not the year a statute was enacted or last amended. For the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service, it is the date on the copyright page or the date on the title page, respectively, of the specific volume containing the statute.
As mentioned previously, the current edition of the United States Code is updated in print with an annual supplement. The United States Code Annotated and United States Code Service are also updated in print with supplements or pocket parts (small pamphlets inserted in the back of a volume).
If a particular statute has been amended (or a new statute is enacted) and the changes appear in a supplement or pocket part, you will need to indicate this in the citation (Rule 12.3.1(e)). For example, if the statute above had been amended since the 2012 edition of the United States Code was published (which it has not) and the amendment appeared in the first annual supplement (Supplement I), you would cite it one of two ways. If the statute is completely amended such that the current version appears only in the supplement, the citation is formatted as follows:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (Supp. I 2014)
If the section is only partially updated (i.e., parts of the current version appear in both the main volume and the supplement), the citation is formatted as follows:
17 U.S.C. § 107 (2012 & Supp. I 2014)
The date of the supplement or pocket part can be found on the spine of the volume or front page.
For more information on statutory code supplements and updating statutory research, watch Updating and Currency in our Statutory Research Tutorial.