Federal Legislative History Research Process

A. Approaches to Legislative History – The Computer and Beyond

The process of legislative history research is changing rapidly, as more and more resources become available on the internet. Several major websites, which are available free to the public, provide detailed materials that can be very useful in compiling a legislative history. Four such sites are described below. In addition, both Lexis and Westlaw provide access to some legislative history materials for members of the MSU Law community with passwords. Several other licensed databases are also available and provide a convenient resource in assembling a legislative history, especially when researching a statute that is relatively new, or a bill that has not yet been passed. However, most computer resources cover relatively recent materials only, and may have incomplete coverage of even the more recent materials. To access older materials and to ensure that one’s research is complete and thorough, the researcher must understand how to use the more traditional print-based resources available in the Law Library and the Main Library Government Documents Collection.

The United States Government Printing Office provides a free website devoted to legislative materials: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/legislative.html. This site contains full-text, searchable links to various Congressional publications, including bills, committee prints, documents, hearing transcripts, the Congressional Record, Congressional Reports, Public Laws, and the United States Code. There are also links to information available from the other branches of government, as well as to regulatory and administrative materials. However, most of the information is fairly recent; older material generally is not yet available.

Another website that may be useful to the legislative history researcher is THOMAS, http://thomas.loc.gov/, published by the Library of Congress. This site contains links to bills, Public Laws, hearing transcripts, committee reports, and the Congressional Record. Most of these links cover documents produced since the mid-1970s to 1980s.

The American Memory Project website, produced by the Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html, offers scanned images of the Annals of Congress, the Register of Debates, and the Congressional Globe from the 1st through the 24th Congresses.

The Congressional Research Service works exclusively for Congress. Part of the Library of Congress, the CRS is known for its non-partisanship and in-depth analysis of issues. Its reports provide valuable insight into how Congress makes decisions and are excellent sources for determining legislative intent. The CRS does not distribute its reports to the public, but many members of Congress release reports. A number of vendors offer subscription services that provide reports on the web or on microfiche. Information about various collections on the free web is available at http://www.law.msu.edu/library/substantive/CRSReports.pdf.

B. Published Legislative History Research Guides

Various textbooks, journal articles, and other materials offer assistance and instruction in creating a legislative history. The following materials may be useful as you explore the process of legislative history research:

Morris L. Cohen et al., How to Find the Law, ch. 7 (9th ed. 1989). [Ref. Desk KF 240.C538 1989]

Morris L. Cohen & Kent C. Olson, Legal Research in a Nutshell, ch. 6 (8th ed. 2003). [Main Collection KF 240.C54 2003]

Christina L. Kunz et al., The Process of Legal Research, ch. 13 (5th ed. 2000). [Ref. Desk & Law Library Reserve Collection KF 240.P76 2000]

Miles O. Price et al., Effective Legal Research, ch. 4 (4th ed. 1979). [Ref. Desk KF 240.P7 1979]

Krista G. Friedman, A Basic Guide to Legislative Histories, 590 PLI/Comm 341 (1991). [Available on Westlaw]

Isa Lang, Researching Tax Legislative History, 80 Law Libr. J. 633 (1988). [Ref. Office]

Isa Lang, Reading Between the Lines: Legislative History for Law Students, 79 Law Libr. J. 203 (1987). [Ref. Office]

Jos. R. Torres & Steve Windsor, State Legislative Histories: A Select, Annotated Bibliography, 85 Law Libr. J. 545 (1993). [Ref. Office]