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Cite Checking Guide for Law Reviews & Publication: Statutes & Legislation

Federal Lawmaking

An author may cite to federal legislation at any stage of the federal lawmaking process, from the introduction of a bill through its publication as a statute. The formal legislative process is initiated when a member of Congress, House or Senate, introduces a bill. 

When a bill is introduced, it is assigned a bill number. The first part of the citation will include a reference to the house of origin (H.R. or S.) and the assigned number. Example: H.R. 108 or S. 5.  The bill number stays the same through each legislative stage.

Once a bill is passed and becomes a law (signed by the President), it is assigned a public law number and published as a separate document. For example, Pub. L. No. 102-408 refers to the 408th law enacted by the 102nd session of Congress.

Next, the public laws from a single legislative session are published in chronological order and each is given a numerical citation as a session law.  The official version of the session laws is a series of printed volumes called the United States Statutes at Large.  86 Stat. 45 is the citation for the federal session law in volume 86, page 45 of the United States Statutes at Large.    

In the final step, most session laws are arranged by subject and codified in the titles of the federal code. Not every law becomes codified. For example, budget bills become public laws and are included in the statutes at large, but are not inserted into the U.S. Code.  

The official codification is a printed series of volumes, arranged by numbered subject titles, called the United States Code which is published every six years.  Note: The 2006 official version and all prior versions have only 50 titles.  The 2012 official version has 51 titles. Titles 52-54 were added recently and will be included in the 2018 official code series when it is available. 

  17 U.S.C. § 512 (2012) refers to Section 512 of Title 17 of the 2012 edition of the United States Code

If the statutory section you are citing has been amended since 2012, you would add "as amended by" followed by the P.L. that amended the code section. Check the Blue Book for citation help.

Bills - legislation introduced by the Senate or the House of Representatives (that may or may not become enacted law).    See the Federal Legislative History Guide, Bills tab for official PDF sources.  

Public Laws

Official PDF: FDsys and GovInfo.gov (104th Congress (1995-1996) to present); ProQuest Congressional and ProQuest Legislative Insight   

United States Statutes at Large

Print:  Eckstein Law Library, first floor. Call Number: KF50.U52 (entire set)

Official PDF:  HeinOnline (entire set); GovInfo.gov (Year 1951, 82nd Congress, 1st Session, (Volume 65) - present)

United States Code (Official) & Supplements

Print: Eckstein Law Library, print volumes, first floor. Call Number: KF62.A2 (1925-current version). Supplements follow each edition.

Official PDF: HeinOnline (1925-current version, and supplements); GovInfo.gov (1994-current version & supplements).

How to Update an Official Version of a Federal Statute Using Only Official Sources: Step by Step

 The United States Code (U.S. 62 2006 .A2 – on the 1st floor of the law library) is the official version of the federal statutes and is published by the Government Publishing Office (GPO).  The official U.S. Code also is on FDsys and GovInfo.gov ─ in PDF format and identical to the print version on the GPO website. HeinOnline also has the official U.S. Code in PDF format.  The Office of Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) has an electronic version of the official Code.  Check with your editors about using that version. 

The official version of the U.S. Code is updated every six years.  The most recent updates were 2000, 2006, and 2012. Titles are updated in chronological order, and it can take nearly two years to publish the updated U.S. Code, now numbering Titles 1-54.  Completed titles of the 2018 series of the U.S. Code set will not start to roll out until 2019.  Supplements continue to be published to the 2012 series until the 2018 series is available.

The 2012 update of the official Code currently has five sets of Supplements. Supplement V has updates for Titles 1-41, through 1/12/2018. Supplement IV has six volumes, containing laws enacted and codified for all titles of the Code, from January 3, 2013 and January 6, 2017. All titles of the official 2012 Code and its supplements are on the first floor of the law library.  HeinOnline has PDFs of each U.S. Code volume and supplement. 

To check the validity of statutory language in the current (now) U.S. Code, you must update an official 2012 version of the statute (and any published supplements), to the current date using official sources. Care must be used to make sure you end up with the most up-to-date, officially sourced version of the statutory language you are validating.

To update a section of the U.S. Code to the current date, using only official sources, follow these steps:

1. Start by finding your statutory title and section(s) in the most recent edition of the official Code. Carefully read the section(s) and save the 2012 language. 

2. Then, check the supplements that have been published since the 2012 version. Look for your statutory section in each supplement.  If there have been amendments to your statute since 2012, capture those amendments, too.

3. Next, go to United States Code Classification Tables on the U.S.. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel website.  The tables are designated by calendar year, each year's table lists which sections of the U.S.  Code have been amended by public laws in that year. Search the table named “Sorted in U.S. Code order” for each year between the last officially updated version of your title/section and the current date.  That's usually going to be two years, sometimes just one, depending on the currency dates of any supplements. The Law Revision Counsel U.S. Code website is current within several days.

Start with the official 2012 U.S. Code and read the statutory section, so you know what you are updating. Next, review the official supplements, and locate and save any amending statutory language.

Next, check the supplements for your statute and note any changes you find.  After you have looked for your statute in the supplements, move to the House OLRC page, and check 2017 and then 2018, choosing the tables that are “sorted in U.S. Code order.”  These tables are not cumulative.  You must check both 2017 and 2018.  (If you are checking a U.S. Code Title between 1-41, those are updated through 1/12/2018 in Supplement V.)

In each year that you need to update in the OLRC tables, look for the U.S. Code title and section in chronological order in the table. Locate your title and section and read across to find parallel citations to the Public Law(s) and corresponding Statutes at Large volume(s) and section(s) that amended your code section in that year.  If nothing is listed for your title and section, there was no amendment that year.

4. If you find an amending public law for your code section, you can link to the public law from the table. The number before the hyphen in the P.L. number indicates in which session of Congress the law was passed. (For example, PL 114-45 is the forty-fifth law passed in the 114th Congress, on 8/7/2015.)  If there is no live link for the public law, you can locate it by citation on FDsys.gov or GovInfo.gov, or Congress.gov.  

NOTE: Ask your editors, and consult the Bluebook, to decide whether the amended, codified section in a supplement volume (if there is one) should be cited for a particular statutory change, or, if the public law should be cited. Usually, just the public law will be cited as amending the 2012 version, but not always. Supplements are official, and amended language published in them can be cited, giving the statutory section and year of the officially published supplement. You can use the drop-down menu on the Law Revision Counsel website to find the official supplements to the Code, or use HeinOnline, or use the bound, print supplement volumes. 

If you are citing a federal statute that has been amended since 2012, but there is no official U.S. Code supplement with the new language, you would use the public law.  Cite the statute with the year of the most recent official Code, followed with “as amended by,” (insert public law that amended the statute).

Example:  26 U.S.C. §40 (2012), as amended by P.L. 115-123. 

Sometimes, an author might want to cite the Statutes at Large citation for an amendment, instead of the public law.  This is an editorial decision for your editors.  In the example above, Pub. Law 115-123, a 2018 amendment to the tax code extending tax breaks for diesel fuel, is found at 132 Stat. 149.  You will see the parallel citation to the Statutes at Large at the top of the official PDF of the public law. 

You can find the official, full text of public laws in PDF on Congress.gov, GovInfo.gov, FDsys.gov, and ProQuest Congressional.

Official, PDF versions of the print volumes of Statutes at Large are available in print volumes on the first floor of the library, and in HeinOnline back to the beginning, 1789.   

Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC)

The official United States Code is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) of the United States House of Representatives. 

The U.S.Code is a consolidation of federal laws and codification by subject matter of the general and permanent laws of the United States. The OLRC website offers an abundance of information to aid your understanding of the structure of these statutes. In addition to its updating properties, consult the OLRC for an explanation of positive law codification and editorial reclassification, and the difference between these two types of federal statutes.

States

Session Laws

PDF:  HeinOnline has ALL the session laws of the 50 U.S. states, plus Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the D.C. Register. All U.S. state session laws are current within 60 days of their printed publication. State laws since statehood and territorial laws enacted before statehood are available. If you are looking for a state session law in PDF (called Acts or Laws or Chapters, depending on the state), start with Hein. 

Limited availability on LLMC Digital.

Microfiche: Eckstein Law Library, fourth floor. Coverage varies by state. 

Print:  Some older session laws for some states are available on the third floor of Eckstein Law Library. Coverage varies by state and is very limited.

Statutes

PDF: HeinOnline.  The State Statutes Historical Archive includes superseded state statutes for all fifty states. Search the statutes by state, date, description and text. Coverage goes back to 1717, but there are gaps for some states. Check each state by using the drop-down windows in the State Statutes database. 

Print: Annotated versions of state statutes, which may be official, and some older editions of the official statutes of selected states are available on the third floor of Eckstein Law Library. Search by title in the law library catalog. Coverage varies.

Microfiche: Eckstein Law Library, fourth floor. Coverage is variable.  Use the catalog to search by title for the state code, e.g., Florida Statutes, and look for older versions in the results.  Some may be on microfiche.

State legislature websites may link to PDF versions of current and older state statutes. The Law Librarians' Society of Washington D.C. maintains a list of links to state statutes. Coverage varies by state.

Wisconsin

The publication process for Wisconsin legislation is similar to that of federal legislation, but the terminology is slightly different.  A bill originating in the Assembly is called AB ###.  A bill originating in the Senate will be referred to as SB.  Example: AB 108 or SB 108.    

After a bill becomes law in Wisconsin, it is assigned an act number. 2001 Wis. Act 39 refers to the 39th act passed during the 2001-2002 legislative session.  At the end of a legislative session, the acts passed during that session are compiled chronologically and published in the official Wisconsin session laws called the Laws of Wisconsin.  

A citation to the Laws of Wisconsin reads the same as the citation to a Wisconsin Act, or 2001 Wis. Act 39.  The official statutory compilation for Wisconsin is called the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations.

  Wis. Stat. § 809.23 (2007-2008) refers to section 23 of chapter 809 from the 2007-2008 edition of the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations. 

Bills

PDF:  Wisconsin Legislature website (1995--present)

Microfiche: Eckstein Law Library, first floor. Call Number:  KFW 2821.5.B5 W57 (1875--)

Print:  Eckstein Law Library, first floor. Call Number: KFW 2406 (current session only)

Acts

PDF: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau website 

Print: Eckstein Law Library, first floor. Call Number: KFW 2406 (current session only) 

Laws of Wisconsin

PDF:  HeinOnline 

Print: Eckstein Law Library, first and third floors.  Call Number: KFW 2425.2.L39 (entire set) 

Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations

PDF: Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau website 

Print: Eckstein Law Library, first and third floors.  Call Number: KFW 2430.A22 (entire set)