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Mastering Federal Statutory Research

Mastering Statutory Research is a guide designed to demystify the world of statutes, providing readers with essential tools and knowledge needed to conduct effective legal research.

How bill becomes a law


Laws begin as bills, introduced into the House or the Senate.  Bills that have passed both the House and the Senate are referred to as enrolled bills.  The enrolled bills are sent to the President for his signature.  That signed bill is then given to the ‘Archivist of the United States’ (I know, more than you wanted to know). Feel free to check out my libguide on legislative research to learn more on how to conduct legislative research. 

Slip Laws

Slip laws are separately issued pamphlets containing the text of one legislative act. These pamphlets are published by the ‘Government Printing Office’ (GPO). 

Session Laws

Statute of Large is a bound volume that consists of the slip laws enacted in during a legislative session in a chronological sequence. The federal session laws are also published in a publication called United States Code Congressional & Administrative News (USCCAN).  

Code = Subject

A revised code is the publication of the public statutes of a jurisdiction in a fixed subject of topical arrangement.  Each subject is usually referred to as a title.  The federal government uses fifty three titles, chapters and then sections (§), subsections, paragraphs and clause.  They are not always consistent.  When sections are repealed, the text is deleted and replaced with a note which summarizes the deleted section.

At the federal level the revised code is the United States Code (USC) is maintained by the ‘Office of the Law Revision Counsel,’ of the U.S. House of Representatives.  It is a great website.  The USC contains “general and permanent” laws.  It does not contain laws affecting a limited number of people or are in effect for a limited time period (appropriation acts).

Always read the notes.  Every now and then someone asks about 4 USC 1: “The flag of the United States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.”  Turns out that the remaining two stars were added by executive order (you can see this in the Notes to 4 USC 1). The authority is given in 4 USC 2 (one star per state).

There are instances where statues are printed in the ‘notes section’ following after a ‘code section.’ Pub.L. 107-297 was published in USC as a note.  In other words, it was published not as a title and section of USC, but as a note following 28 USC 1610; as part of the Historical and Statutory Notes.  The question is whether this was a law, since it was not part of sec. 1610 but the Historical and Statutory Notes.

Within the Privacy Act itself, Congress stated that section 3 was an amendment to Title V, which governs federal administrative agencies. See 88 Stat. at 2178. Thus, section 3 added a new section to Title V and was codified as 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Id. at 2177 . Because Congress made no such statement about section 7 of the Privacy Act, the revisor of the U.S.Code placed section 7 in an “Historical and Statutory” note following 5 U.S.C. § 552a. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a (note). The district court mistakenly placed great weight on this fact. The district court noted that, although section 7 was part of the Privacy Act that “was passed into law as Public Law 93-579,” the fact that section 7 “was never codified, and appears only in the ‘Historical and Statutory Notes' section of the United States Code,” made section 7 a mere “historical footnote to the Privacy Act of 1974 [which] Congress has never reflected any intention of [codifying].” The district court apparently believed that public laws have less “weight” as laws than laws which have been codified. The reverse is true: “the Code cannot prevail over the Statutes at Large when the two are inconsistent.” United States v. Welden, 377 U.S. 95, 98 n. 4, 84 S.Ct. 1082, 1085 n. 4, 12 L.Ed.2d 152 (1964) (internal quotations omitted).  Schwier v. Cox, 340 F.3d 1284



Congress meets in two-year periods.  Each years is known as a session.T/F

Bills not passed before Congress adjourns must be reintroduced to be considered again for passage.T/F

The legislative process in the states largely parallels that of the legislative process of the federal government.T/F


The session law of the United States are chronologically organized in the:

a. United States Code

b. United States Constitution

c. United States Statutes at Large

d. None of the above

The session laws of the United States are topically organized in the:

a. United States Code

b. United States Constitution

c. United States Statutes at Large

d. None of the above

The official source of the laws of the United States is published by:

a. Lexis Publishing

b. The United States Government Printing Office

c. West Publishing

d. None of the above


What are editorial enhancements?

Name two editorial enhancements: