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Federal Legislative History

Research guide about resources and strategies for researching federal legislative history.


Understanding the Legislative Process

The resources listed below provide an in-depth discussion of the federal legislative process and congressional publications:

How Our Laws Are Made, revised and updated by John V. Sullivan, Parliamentarian, U. S. House of Representatives, is available electronically on the U.S. Government Printing Office's site, GovInfo, or as a printed volume in the Law Library Reference Collection (KF4945 .S9 2007).

Enactment of a Law, by Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian, U.S. Senate, February 1997 is available for free online.

Congressional Publications and Proceedings: Research on Legislation, Budgets, and Treaties , by Jerrold Swim, is available in print in the Law Library (JK1067 .Z85 1988)., the official source for federal legislative information, contains a series of informational videos that explain the various elements of the legislative process.

Using Legislative History

The appropriate role of legislative history in the legal process is hotly disputed. The following resources address the arguments and legal theories surrounding the use of legislative history:

Statutory Interpretation and the Rest of the Iceberg: Divergences between the Lower Federal Courts and the Supreme Court, by Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl (68 DUKE L.J. 1, 2018). Full text available electronically via the Duke Law Journal.

A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law: An Essay, by Antonin Scalia; Amy Gutmann, editor [et al.] (KF4552 .S28 2018).

Statutory Interpretation: General Principles and Recent Trendspublished by Congressional Research Service, 2014. Full text available electronically via HeinOnline.

The Judicial Role : Statutory Interpretation and the Pragmatic Judicial Partner, by William D. Popkin (KF 425 .P6695 2013).

Statutory Interpretation: The Search for Legislative Intent, by Ronald Benton Brown, Sharon Jacobs Brown (KF 425 .B76 2011). 

Statutes and Statutory Construction, 7th ed., by Norman J. Singer (KF425 .S97 2007). This multi-volume set, also known as Sutherland Statutory Construction, is available in print and electronically on Westlaw. Updated regularly.

Legislation and Statutory Interpretation, by William N. Eskridge, Jr., Philip P. Frickey, and Elizabeth Garrett (KF425 .E85 2000).

Dynamic Statutory Interpretation, by William N. Eskridge, Jr. (KF425 .E83 1994).

Using and Misusing Legislative History: A Re-evaluation of the Status of Legislative History in Statutory Interpretation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Legal Policy, 1989. Available through the Law Library's Documents Collection (J 1 .96 :H 62). Full text available electronically via HathiTrust.