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Cite Checking Guide for Law Reviews & Publication: How to Update a Federal Statute Using Official Sources

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

The United States Code (KF62 2018 .A2 – on the 1st floor in the law library) is the official version of the federal statutes. The official U.S. Code is published by the Government Publishing Office (GPO).  It is available on GovInfo.gov in PDF format. HeinOnline also has the official U.S. Code in PDF format.  If you are sourcing and validating a federal statute, you must check for the full chronology of updates to your statutory section from the last official edition of the statutes to the current day.  How to update a federal statute properly and how the official publication process works is explained here. 

Keep in mind that HeinOnline has PDFs of each U.S. Code edition and its official supplements since the U.S. Code began. You can look at the U.S. Code editions on the shelves in the reference area or study the coverage of the supplements in HeinOnline to get a better understanding of the publication structure of U.S. Code editions.

To confirm the validity, changes, and currency of federal statutory language in the U.S. Code for law review citations: You must update the official version of the statute (and any published supplements if necessary), to the current date, using only 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.

The official version of the United States Code is updated every six years.  The most recently published fully complete U.S. Code is the 2018 edition. All 54 Titles of the 2018 edition of the U.S. Code have been officially published and the main edition volumes for the titles are current through the end of 2018.  These titles of the 2018 Code edition are online in HeinOnline and GovInfo.gov. and on the shelves in the Eckstein library in reference.  

There are two Supplements to the 2018 Code as of right now.

Supplement I (Roman numerals are used) is in one volume and covers all U.S. Code Title updates enacted between January 3, 2019, and January 24, 2020.  You can find the 2018 Supplement I in PDF on HeinOnline at the end of list of contents in the 2018 Edition, and in print on the shelves in the library.  It is also available in PDF at GovInfo.gov.

Supplement II is in three volumes: Vol. I Titles 1-15, Vol. II Titles 16-38, and Vol. III Titles 39-54. While the U.S. Code Supplements are not always cumulative (always check); Supplement II does contain everything that was in Supplement I, plus the new material.  Supplement II covers statutory changes through 1/13/2021.  

PLEASE NOTE: As September 29, 2022, HeinOnline has uploaded only Volume I of Supplement II to its database.  The PDF versions of Supplement II, Volumes II and III have not been added yet.  (Hein has reported to us that the GPO had not yet made them available for purchase.)  But, happily, all 3 official printbound volumes of Supplement II are on the shelf in the Reference area in the library. If you do not see them on the shelf at the end of the official U.S. Code sets, it is possible they are in the Boden Suite. 

KEEP READING TO FINISH THE UPDATING PROCESS!

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

1. Find the statutory Title & section(s) for your citation in the most recent complete edition of the official Code. The 2018 edition is complete. Carefully read the section(s) you need and save the language. 

2. Then, check the Supplements to the 2018 edition (see the description, above).  If Supplements have any amendments or updates (like a repeal) for your section, capture those amendments.  Supplements to the U.S. Code sometimes are cumulative, but not always. Over the course of this school year, another supplement might be added to Supplements I and II. It or may not be cumulative or updating every Title.  Keep current with publication and legislative activity during this period.   

3. Next, you must consult the United States Code Classification Tables on the House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) website, to capture anything that occurred with your statute between January 13, 2021, and now. The tables are designated by calendar year, and each year's table lists any sections of the U.S. Code that have been amended by public laws in that year. These tables are not cumulative beyond the calendar year. Search the table named “Sorted in U.S. Code order” for each year between the last officially updated version of the title/section and the current date.  

The Law Revision Counsel U.S. Code website is current within a few days. Check the Currency & Updating tab. If Congress is in session when you are updating, you can check Congress.gov to see if any pending bills in the legislature might affect your statute.  Always keep accurate notes and date them.

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.  Make a note of the date you looked at the table, so anyone can tell the last date you checked it.

4. If you find an amending public law listed in the table 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. You may see a link in the Statutes-at-Large column that takes you to the public law. If there is no live link in the table for the public law, you can locate it by its citation on GovInfo.gov, or Congress.gov. You must acquire an official PDF of any Public Law you need for the update. 

5. Ask your editors, and consult the Bluebook, to decide whether an amended section found in a supplement volume should be cited for a statutory change, or if the public law should be cited. Usually, the public law will be cited as the amending version.

Supplements are official, and amended language published in them can be cited, giving the U.S. Code section and year of the officially published supplement.  

If you are citing a federal statute that has been amended recently and there is no official U.S. Code or Code supplement with the new language yet, then you would cite the public law.  Check the Bluebook for how to add it to the statutory citation.

NOTE: Sometimes, an author may want to cite the Statutes at Large citation for the amending language, instead of the public law.  This is an editorial decision for you and your editors. 

You can find the official public laws in PDF on Congress.gov, GovInfo.gov, and ProQuest Congressional.   Official versions of the Statutes at Large are available in HeinOnline back to 1789.   

(Rev. 9/6/2022)   

OLRC - The Office of the Law Revision Counsel

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.

Official U.S. Code - 1st Floor Reference - Range 114

U.S. Code - Official Supplements - Eckstein Law Library