The laws passed by Congress are contained in a set of books called the United States Code (often abbreviated “U.S.C.”, “USC”, or “U.S. Code”). The USC is organized into fifty titles and each title deals with a broad subject, like Banks and Banking (Title 12).
Particular laws are cited by their USC title and section. For example: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 indicates the federal statute found in Title 42 of the USC at Section 1983.
The official version of the USC is published by the Federal Government and known simply as the U.S. Code. The United States Code Annotated (USCA) is a commercial version of the USC, which has more finding tools, cross references to other materials, and is updated more frequently than the government-published USC. But the Title and Section citations are the same, and the texts of the statutes vary only by how recently each set has been updated.
The library maintains the U.S. Code and the USCA. Print copies of the USC can be found in the reference collections, ranges 202B-203A.
US statutory material can be found in many places online. The US Code can be found:
The USCA is available online through student and faculty Westlaw accounts. Another annotated version of the USC is the United States Code Service (USCS), which can be accessed through student and faculty Lexis Advance accounts.
If you don’t have a citation to the statute that you need, each of the print sets has an index. You can use the index to look up words that describe the subject you are researching and locate relevant Titles and Sections of the USC that deal with that subject.
As an example of using the indexes to the codes, here is an entry from the General Index to the USCA:
The listing of specific subjects related to Foster Care includes Income Tax and a sub-listing for “credits, adoption”. This narrow subject is addressed in Title 42 of the U.S. Code at Section 671.
A Public Law is a statute in the form as it was passed by Congress (i.e., not as it is organized by subject in the U.S. Code). Public Laws are published in a set of books called “Statutes at Large”. These can be useful because many laws passed by Congress make numerous changes throughout the USC; these allow you to read the law in its original form.
The Statutes at Large can be found at KF 50 .U5. Check the library catalog entry for electronic access to current and historical materials.
Public materials can often be found online at Congress.Gov or in compiled legislative histories, such as those found in Legislative Insight and the US Federal Legislative History Library from HeinOnline. Speak to a law librarian for more information on legislative history.
It is important to make sure to locate any possible changes to the statutes you find. Most volumes of the USCA and USC have a pocket part in the back cover - or a pamphlet next to the volume - that contain recent changes to the laws in that volume. There are also supplements to the entire sets of both the USCA and USC that contain new laws passed by Congress since the pocket parts were published. The USCA is updated with annual hard-bound volumes which supplement that entire set, while the USC is updated with new hard-bound volumes every six years. Researching online is a another great way to ensure you are looking at up-to-date materials. You can also check Congress.Gov to find if there is any pending legislation that would affect the statutes you are researching; you can also set email or RSS alerts.