Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Federal Legislative History

This guide provides an overview of how to locate federal legislative history.

Introduction

The best way to start federal legislative history research is to determine whether someone else has already compiled and published a legislative history. The sources below may guide you to publications that include full text documents, or to a list of all available documents about the law. To locate a compiled legislative history, check the following sources:

Online Resources

ProQuest Legislative Insight Restricted Resource Some full text available contains legislative histories primarily from 1929 to the present, with a smaller number of histories dating back to 1836.

LexisNexis has CIS Legislative Histories from 1970 through current (abstracted documents only) in the file LEGIS;CISLH. Selectively compiled legislative histories are also available and can be found by browsing the online directory in "Federal Legal - US" and then clicking on "Legislative Histories & Materials."

Westlaw has access to legislative history materials in a number of formats. You can search US GAO Federal Legislative Histories (FED-LH), which include comprehensive legislative histories for most U.S. Public Laws enacted from 1915 to 1995 (rolling release), as compiled by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, including the text of laws, bills, committee reports, Congressional Record documents, transcripts of hearings, and other documents in PDF format.  If you are looking at a statute, there is a link on the left to related hearings and reports. Westlaw also offers the Arnold & Porter Collection of legislative histories, located by browsing the online directory in "US Federal Materials" and clicking on "Arnold & Porter Collection - Legislative Histories."

ProQuest Congressional Restricted Resource  offers compiled legislative histories for all federal acts since the 91st Congress (1969-1970), with links to the full-text of many of the legislative documents.  This service also offers indexing for pre-1970 legislative documents.  If a compiled legislative history is not available on Proquest Legislative Insight, the documents may still be available in Proquest Congressional.

HeinOnline Restricted Resource  has selected legislative histories available in a full-text, fully searchable format. Click on the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library.

The Department of Commerce Law Library has a limited number of legislative histories available online, from the Antidumping Law of 1921 to the 1976 Copyright Act Revisions. For a full listing of the histories, and links to the on-line documents, go to the Law Librarian's Society of Washington D.C.'s listing of histories, by popular name and by public law number. You will be prompted to enter a PIN number, and may choose any number you want to use.

US Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) is also available on Westlaw (database: USCCAN). From 1948-1989, the database is the same as the print version of USCCAN. From 1990, the database contains the full text of all congressional committee reports, including reports on bills that did not become law.

Print Resources

To quickly locate the most important history documents for legislative acts from 1943 through the current Congress, look in: 

US Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) 
LAW FEDERAL 1st floor  KF 48 .U552 (available in Westlaw)

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories, by Nancy P. Johnson
LAW STACKS 2nd floor  KF 42 .S6 (available on HeinOnline)
HeinOnline includes links to selected full-text documents. From the home page, click on "U.S. Federal Legislative History Library," then click on "Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database."

Federal Legislative Histories: An Annotated Bibliography and Index to Officially Published Sources, by Bernard Reams
LAW REFERENCE 2nd floor  KF 42.2 1994

CIS Annual 1970 - present
LAW MICROFORMS 1st floor  KF 49 .C62 
This print index includes complete legislative histories with references to the full-text documents available in the Library's CIS microfiche collection. Please see a Reference Librarian if you need help using the index. From the 91st to 98th Congresses (1970 - 1983) legislative histories are found at the end of the Abstracts volume. Beginning in 1984, an Annual Legislative History volume lists histories by public law number. Each history contains an abstract of the public law and full bibliographic citations to relevant documents.

​The William A. Wise Law Library also has legislative histories in print and on microfiche. Use the Wise Law Library Online Library Catalog at http://lawlibrary.colorado.edu/?q=find&qt-find_search=1#qt-find_search.

[Hint: Use the "keywords" search option to search for keywords from the title of the act (example: searching "american disabilities legislative" will bring up the call number for a book containing the full text of all the legislative history documents relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act)]

Follow William A. Wise Law Library on:   Facebook     Twitter     YouTube     RSS