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Federal Legislative History Research

Components of a Legislative History


  1. Bills
  2. Debates
  3. Hearings
  4. Reports
  5. Documents
  6. Prints
  7. Debates
  8. Presidential Statements

Committee Reports

  1. In reality, maybe 80 % of what most attorneys deal with in respect to a legislative history are Committee reports.   Committee Reports consist of a section by section analysis of a bill.  Usually, they provide the most definitive evidence of legislative intent.
  2. Several fates can befall a bill, once in Committee.  If a Committee votes to Report a Bill, the Committee Report is written.  An unfavorable report can be issued, but usually a report is favorable. If the Committee wants to kill the bill they will usually just table it.  The reported bill goes to the Chamber floor, with the detailed text attached.  It will describe the bill, summarize the various opinions of the Committee members and analyze the major issues invoked by the bill (ideally).  Changes or amendments may be explained and vote roll-call information is usually provided as well.  Committee reports are a font of valuable information, making them the most cited form of ‘legislative history’ in the case literature.


  1. Debates can be important because a bill may be amended during the course of floor debates (1964 Civil Rights Acts).  Debates are published in the Congressional Record. 


  1. Transcripts Of Questions & Answers Presented Before A Committee Or Subcommittee Considering A Bill (Not Verbatim)
  2. Supplementary Material Sometimes Included E.G.
  3. Submitted Materials And Prepared Statements
  4. As I understand it there are only two regular (but unofficial) transcribers of federal government hearings and press meetings and most everyone else (CQ, Gallery-Watch, Dow-Jones, Lexis, Westlaw, Dialog, etc.) get their transcripts (and prepared statements) from them. They are Federal News Service ( Lexis Legislative à Federal Hearings à Something Else) and Federal Document Clearing House ( Although these two providers acquire almost all prepared testimony for congressional hearings they are fairly selective as to which hearings to transcribe and which panels of witnesses.  Usually, I think, FNS will cover certain committees (with some others thrown in) and FDCH will cover those hearings they consider the biggest  names or issues, but they both have limited staff so they only appear to do a handful or two each day. 
    1. For instance on Thursday, July 15, 2004 (the date in question), out of 24 congressional hearings held that day, FNS appears to have transcribed the hearings of six and FDCH appears to have transcribed the hearings of eight,  including the one you wanted. There were only two duplicates so that is half the hearings transcribed that day. I believe CQ gets their transcripts from FDCH as well so I am surprised that you were unable to find it from them, but you can get it on Lexis (LEGIS;POLTRN file) or I believe, Westlaw (USPOLTRANS file).
    2. If a hearing has not been transcribed then it is usually possible to obtain an audio from,, or and get it transcribed.
  5. House/Senate Document Room for copies
    1. House.
    2. Senate.

Prints – Mention this but Reports are usually the most importante

  1. Often Prepared By Research Staffs Or Outside Consultants.  May Include Various Info, Statistical, Historical, Analytical
  2. Types Of Materials
    1. Compilations
    2. Studies  
    3. No Standard Numbering System
    4. Congressional Publications:
    5. Legislative History.  If there is a prepared index to a legislative history, it will be issued as a committee print.  Search: index and “legislative history.” Limit to ‘Committee Prints”

Documents – Reports are usually the most importante

  1. Highly Diverse, Examples Include Presidential Messages To Congress,
    1. Annual Agency Reports And Studies, Ngo Annual Reports, Veto Messages
    2. Publications Printed In Serial Set  By Order Of Congress
    3. Valuable Historically
    4. Typically Not Of Great Use In Legislative History

Indexes to the legislative history

  1. Most legislative histories are comprised of Bills, Hearings, Reports, Debates, Documents, Prints.  Can amount to a large number of documents consisting of thousands of pages and there is no index. 
    1. If there is a prepared index, it is usually a committee print.  There can be commercially prepared indexes. 
    2. What else may act as an index for you?

i.Maybe a law review article. 

ii.Maybe a case or a brief.