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Legislative History: Home

Resources for finding federal and state legislative history materials.

Best Bet - Federal Legislative History

For most UCI researchers looking for the legislative history of a federal law, Legislative Insight is the best starting point. Look for documents that have been marked with a gold star: gold star image.

Where to start

  1. Ask: what do you mean? Always make sure you know what you're looking for. Don't spend your time gathering every relevent document going back years if your supervisor only wants the latest Committee Report.
  2. Get citations. You'll need: bill number(s), Public Law number(s), and Statutes at Large or Chapter numbers. Historical materials are often arranged by these citations, not by code section. 
  3. Look for a compilation. Check this guide; we've selected some of the best sources for compiled legislative histories.
  4. Search the typical sources of legislative history materials. If no compiled history exists, or if you need to supplement a compiled history, or if you're looking for a known item, then check this guide for the individual sources of legislative history (bills, hearings, etc.) For example, if you were cite-checking "109 CONG. REC. 13,948 (1963) (statement of Sen. Kefauver)," you'd check the "Debates" tab for more information about the Congressional Record.

General Reference

Legislative Process

A few of the best resources for in-depth research into legislative procedure include:

More Research Guides

Background

What is legislative history?

Legislative history refers to all the materials considered or created by a legislature in relation to a proposed law. This guide covers the major types: (1) Bills, (2) Hearings, (3) Reports, (4) Debates, (5) Prints, and (6) Presidential Materials.

Why is legislative history important?

Legislative history materials can provide clues to a legislature's intent, which might signal how a law should be interpreted and applied. Tip: Judges and lawyers have diverse opinions about the proper role of legislative history in statutory interpretation.

When, where, and how is legislative history used?

Legislative history is persuasive legal authority; it can supplement or clarify binding authority.

  • Courts and attorneys use it to infer legislative intent of vague or ambiguous statutory text.
  • It can indicate how the law applies to situations closely related to, but not directly covered by, a statute.
  • It can also help correct for drafting errors.

Do not confuse legislative history with:

  • Statutory history - looking narrowly at how the text of a law has changed over time
  • Statutory interpretation - authoritative treatise is Sutherland.