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Legislative History - a compilation of congressional documents produced at each stage of the legislative process.

Black's Law Dictionary definition - "the background and events leading to the enactment of a statute, including hearings, committee reports, and floor debates." 

Types of Federal Legislative History

  • Compiled
    • Major pieces of legislation
    • Multi-volume
    • Found within legal databases & select print resources
  • Legislative documents include
    • The bill, itself;
    • Voting records
    • Committee report
    • Committee prints
    • Congressional Research Service reports
    • Floor debates - Congressional Record
    • Signing Statements


How Is a Legislative History Used? 

  • To aid in the interpretation of statutes when
    • The statutory language is unclear;
    • No statutory canons exist to guide in the interpretation of the statute; or
    • There are no existing judicial or federal agency interpretations of the statutory language.
  • To track a pending bill as it moves through the legislative process within Congress.
  • To provide background or historical information for research purposes. 

Researchers may also be interested in

  • The committees and members involved in the legislative process;
  • How the statutory language was amended as it advanced through the legislative process; or
  • How members voted on proposed amendments and the final passage.

Before you start your research, it helps to know the following information: 

  • The Public Law number (or chapter number for laws passed before 1957)
    • This citation is often abbreviated as P.L. or Pub. L. No.
    • Format: PL 88-352: This indicates that this was the 352nd bill to pass the 88th Congress.
  • the location within the U.S. Statutes at Large
    • A public law is first printed on a slip and is then published within the Statutes at Large, now known as the Public and Private Laws.
    • Format: 78 Stat. 241 (1964).
  • the date of enactment; and
    • This information is helpful when acts have the same name. 
  • the number of the House or Senate bill and Congress.
    • This information will ensure you're viewing the correct document. 
    • Abbreviations: House of Representatives (H.R.); Senate (S.)
    • Format:
      • H.R. 7152
      • 91 S. 1075

Searching by Popular Name

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel provides a Popular Name Tool that lists acts by their well-known names. If you'd like to search the legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but don't know its public law number or statutory provision, start with the popular name tool. 

Historical Notes

You will find a history of the bill at the end of each United States Code legislative provision. This history provides the public law number as well as the Statutes at Large citation. 

In Westlaw Campus Research, this information is listed under the Credits section of the statute. 


If you are reviewing information on the act through Westlaw's Popular Name Table, the information will appear as such: