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Advanced Research Skills: SKL-09272916: Legislative History

What is Legislative History?

A legislative history is a compilation of documents produced at each stage of the legislative process. 

How is Legislative History Used?

Legislative history documents may be used:

  1. To aid a court in its interpretation of statutory language, but only if
    1. The statutory language is unclear on its face,
    2. No statutory canons exist to guide the court in its interpretation, and
    3. There are no existing judicial or federal agency interpretations of the statutory language, OR
  2. To track a pending bill as it moves through Congress

Beginning Your Legislative History

The more detail you can begin with the easier your research often becomes.

  1. Assuming we are discussing federal law begin with locating the Public Law number. 
  2. its location in the U.S. Statutes at Large
  3. the date of enactment
  4. the number of the House or Senate Bill and Congress that was enacted

Having these details can make your online or print searches much more precise, saving time and creating better research.


The Many Different Types of Legislative History

  • Compiled
    • Major pieces of legislation
    • Normally multi-volume
    • Resources such as ProQuest, Hein, Print resources
  • Legislative Documents (What they are)
    • The Bill Itself; voting records
    • Committee Hearing
    • Committee Report
    • Committee Prints
    • Floor Debates
    • Signing Statements
  • Legislative Documents (Where to find them)
    • ProQuest
    • Hein
    • Print / Microfiche / Microfilm
  • Digging Deeper
    • Sutherland Statues and Statutory Construction (Print & Westlaw)
    • Statutory Interpretation: The Search for Legislative Intent, Brown