This guide is designed to help you understand the Federal Legislative process as well as what documents comprise a legilative history. It covers the major print materials, free web sources, and online databases. The guide can be used by students, faculty members, lawyers, and the general public.
For an in-depth examination of the legislative process see Sullivan, J. V, & Brady, R. A., How our laws are made. (2007), available in through the Library of Congress.
Please contact any of our UC Law Librarians if you need assistance in finding or using any of the resources in the guide.
“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” John Godfrey Saxe
Food for thought
Federal legislative history refers to the documents produced by Congress as a bill is introduced, studied and debated. Thus, a legislative history is an attempt to determine the intent of the legislature. The intent of the legislature is one of the arguments you can use when arguing how a ambiguous statute should be interpreted.
Legislative histories for major laws are sometimes compiled and published in a single collection. These compilations can be very helpful because they gather all of the legislative sources relating to a law in one place. Therefore, it may be worth your while to determine if one of these exists before attempting to compile the sources on your own. Check out the Compilations tab for more information.
The most important documents produced during the legislative process, that is the documents most indicative of legislative intent, are as follows:
Always look for these materials first when researching legislative history.