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Statutes Research Guide

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.


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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; if you're using a print code, the index is nearly always found in the last volume(s). Lexis and Westlaw may even provide electronic versions of a popular name table or index for your jurisdiction. It is also possible to search (e.g., terms and connectors searching) the full text of federal or state statutes online using Lexis or Westlaw. See our Terms and Connectors (Boolean) Searching Tutorial for more information.

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. These publications may go by different names in different jurisdictions. For example, below are the session laws and codes for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Note that some states have both an official version and unofficial code. Others have only one version.

Abbreviation What it Means
D.C. Stat. District of Columbia Session Law Service (session laws)
D.C. Code  West's District of Columbia Code (code)
D.C. Code (LexisNexis [year]) Lexis District of Columbia Code (code)
Md. Laws Laws of Maryland (session laws)
Md. Laws Maryland [subject] Code Annotated (code)
Va. Acts Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (session laws)
Va. Code Ann. Code of Virginia Annotated (code)

State laws are available on Lexis and Westlaw shortly after they are passed by the state legislature. In addition, most states have recent session laws and the state codes on the web. For example, you can locate them through the Legal Information Institute's listing of state laws by jurisdiction. However, this approach is best if you already have either a citation or some exact language from the statute. See our individual state research guides for more information on a particular state's statutes. 

Citations & Sources: Federal

Publication Title Call Number of Print Digital Access for Georgetown Law
United States Code (U.S.C.) (official code) KF62 2012 .A2 Reading Room, Area 3 on map HeinOnline, Bloomberg Law, Westlaw (unannotated), Office of the Law Revision Counsel (including Popular Name Tool)
United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) (unofficial code) KF62 1927 .A3 Reading Room, Area  4 on map Westlaw (including Index and Popular Name Table)
United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) (unofficial code) KF62 1972 .U5 Reading Room, Area 5 on map Lexis (including Index and Popular Name Table)
United States Statutes at Large (Stat.) (official session laws) KF50 .U5 Reading Room, Area 8 on map Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, ProQuest Congressional, HeinOnline, LLMC Digitalgovinfo
United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.) (unofficial session laws) KF48 .U54 Reading Room, Area 7 on map Westlaw
Public Law (Pub. L.), govinfo
Also printed in the United States Statutes at Large (Stat.)
Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the Congress (Cong. Rec.) KF35 .A26 Micro Media 1st Fl, Micro Row B, Cabinets 16-19 (1873-2003); KF35 .A26 Mezzanine (1873-2012) Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, ProQuest Congressional, HeinOnline, LLMC Digital,

Citations & Sources: State

See our individual state research guides for information on each state's statutes, as well as local laws. For more information on laws passed by local governing bodies, see Municipal Codes: A Beginner's Guide (Law Library of Congress). For complete listings of citations and sources of statutes and laws for each state, refer to your Bluebook


Multi-jurisdictional Research: 50-State Surveys

Fifty-state surveys track a single topic across the statutes (or regulations) of all 50 states.  They usually take the form of a state-by-state table or chart containing the citations to the laws on the given topic in each state, but contain little-to-no analysis.  A 50-State Survey will not be available for all topics, but, if there is one, it will serve as a valuable starting point when conducting multi-jurisdictional research on a topic. Check each of the below sources to see if there is a 50-state-survey already compiled for your topic. Pay close attention to the date of any 50-state-surveys you find, as they may require some updating.

Note that you can sometimes find multi-state surveys or multi-state issue-trackers online, such as on the websites of law firms or organizations that are interested in tracking specific topics across jurisdictions.  The National Conference of State Legislatures also often has multi-state bill-tracking for specific, current topics (to begin, hover over "Research" and scan for a relevant entry in the "Topics" list).

Finally, American Law Reports (ALRs) also track a single, narrow legal issue across all U.S. jurisdictions (U.S. states, federal circuits, etc.). They typically include substantive analysis and useful research tools (such as a Table of Laws and cross-references to other secondary sources and research tools).  It is always worth checking to see if there is a relevant ALR available on your topic when conducting multi-jurisdictional legal research. ALRs are available on both Westlaw and Lexis (you may find them to be organized in a more user-friendly way on Westlaw).

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Statutory Research Tutorial

Running time: 4:02 minutes

Created/updated: January 2019
Last reviewed: January 2019

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