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Federal Legislative History: Introduction

This guide explains the legislative history research process and identifies resources for finding documentation generated during the legislative process: bills, resolutions, committee reports, committee testimony and exhibits, floor debates and other testimony, and presidential signing statements.

Introduction

Attorneys, judges, and legal scholars conduct legislative history research for a range of reasons, one of which is to try to interpret specific language in a statute.  If the plain meaning of a statutory provision is not clear, or if court decisions or regulations associated with it have not cleared uncertainty in its application, legislative history might be useful as a persuasive tool. The legislative history of a statute might clarify the meaning of the statutory language or give clues about the intended application of the statute in a specific set of circumstances.

Legislative history refers to the documents generated during the process of a statute's enactment.  These documents include, among other things: proposed bills, committee hearings, committee reports and floor debates. A practitioner, judge, or legal scholar assembles some or all of the documents associated with a particular statute with the hope of uncovering legislative intent. Historical materials also can be useful simply for revealing the chronology of a law's original passage, its amendments, hearings, and votes.

Quick Links for Federal Legislative History Research

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