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Researching Statutes

This guide is designed to give you an introduction to researching statutes.

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Overview

Legal materials can fall into two different categories: (1) Primary and (2) Secondary. Statutes are a primary legal source. Statutes are laws of general force and effect enacted by a legislature and signed by an executive. Statutes are fluid in nature. Once enacted, the legislature may continually return to the statute and change (amend) it. 

Both state and federal statutes follow the same basic steps going from bill to session law form. Statutes are first enacted by the legislature. Then they are signed by the executive. They may first be published as a slip law. These slip laws are then published as session laws, a chronological arrangement of the enacted laws of a jurisdiction. 

Session laws of a permanent and general nature are codified to the statutory code of the jurisdiction. A code is a subject compilation of these laws of a permanent and general nature. The advantages of using a code for research include the fact that codes collate original laws with later amendments, they bring all laws on the same subject together, and they eliminate repealed, superseded, or expired laws. 

For more information on the process of a bill becoming law, please consult our legislative history guide:  http://guides.libraries.uc.edu/Federal_Legislative_History

Research Process Flowchart

Where do statutes fall in the research process? Well, if you’re following a basic research strategy, after you consult secondary sources and determine that your issue is statutory, you’ll want to go research in an annotated code volume.

Research Process Flowchart

The first step in the research process is to analyze the problem and to ask questions. The second step is to consult secondary sources. The third step is to answer the question is it common law or statutory or do you have a cause of action that can be filed under both? Your secondary source research can help with that.The fourth step branches out depending on if you have a common law or statutory law issue. If it is a common law issue, you will read cases suggested by your secondary sources and find cases using headnotes and topic and key numbers. If your issue is statutory, you will consult the annotated code. You want to update the annotated code with the pocket part or supplement and the Legislative Service if you are working with print resources. The annotated code will give you case summaries for important cases that interpret the statute. After consulting the annotated code for a statutory issue, you will move on to finding cases. You will look up the full-text of the cases you found in the annotated code, look at the cases suggested by secondary sources, and look for more cases using the headnotes and topic and key numbers. If you are not able to find case law for your statutory issue and the statutory language is ambiguous, you will do legislative history research. Also, any time you have a statutory issue, you will need to find any applicable administrative regulations and update those regulations.You will want to consult administrative adjudications. Regardless of whether you have a statutory or a common law issue, you will need to make sure your cases are good law. You will Shepardize or KeyCite your cases. If this is a statutory issue, you will also need to Shepardize or KeyCite the statutes and regulations. Stop researching when you keep finding the same information over and over again.

CALI Lesson: Introduction to State and Federal Statutes

CALI LogoAvailable to Law Students only (see a reference librarian if you do not have a CALI activation code).

Session Laws

Overview

A session law is the chronological publication of the laws passed by a jurisdiction. You may hear session laws referred to as acts as well. Session laws may include both public (laws of a general nature) and private (laws that apply to a specific person or group or that are temporary in nature) laws. Each session law is assigned a number. 

Federal Session Laws

In the Federal system, the first part of the number is the congress that passed the law. 

Pub. L. No. 107-56

Here in the Federal example, the 107 refers to the 107th Congress. The second part of the number is the number of the law passed.  So, here in the example, the 56 refers to it being the 56th law passed by the 107th Congress.

State Session Laws

State session laws will vary in their numbering system. Some use chapters. Kentucky uses the year and chapter number. Indiana numbers its post-1982 public laws by first assigning the law a number and then the year of the law. So in the Indiana example, the numbering scheme refers to it being the 33rd law passed in the year 2008. Ohio uses the bill number.

KY:  1998 Ky. Acts ch. 21, § 1

IN:  Pub. L. 33-2008

OH:  Am. H.B. No. 268, 126  Ohio Laws 730.

Where to Find Session Laws

Session laws usually have official and unofficial publications. 

Federal

Official

Unofficial

State

With most states, you will also find their session laws published in the legislative service pamphlets published by West or the Advance Service published by Lexis. Many states will also publish their session laws on the state website. 

Citation Format for Session Laws

Bluebook

Rule 12.4 of the Bluebook (20th ed.) covers the citation of session laws. The Bluepages B12.1.1 and Table 1 should also be consulted. The citation should include the following:

Elements

  • Title of Act
    • Use official or popular name if one exists
    • Otherwise identify the act with the date of enactment or effectiveness (abbreviated per T. 12)
  • Volume (if no volume, give the year)
  • Abbreviated name of session law publication (see  T. 1)
  • Pages and sections (if pinpoint citing give the beginning page and the relevant page to which you are citing)
  • Year of enactment (if no date of enactment, use effective date)
  • Codification information (as a parenthetical)

Examples:

Immigration and Nationality Act, Pub. L. No. 82-414, § 101, 66 Stat. 163, 167 (1952) (codified as amended at 8 U.S.C. § 1101).

Act of Dec. 31, 1996, Pub. Act 89-685, 1996 Ill. Laws 685 (codified as amended at 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/3-107).

Act of Apr. 12, 1994, § 2, 1993-1994 Ohio Laws 6546, 6548-50.

Am. S. B. No. 47, 2013 Ohio Legis. Serv. Ann. L-13, L-23 (West) (codified as amended at Ohio Rev. Stat. § 3503.06).

Am. S. B. No. 47, 2013 Ohio Legis. Bull. 24, 39, (Lexis) (codified as amended at Ohio Rev. Stat. § 3503.06).

ALWD

Rule 14.6 & 14.8 in the ALWD Citation Manual (5th ed.) covers the citation of session laws.

Elements

  • Title of Act
    • Use official or popular name if one exists (omit "the")
    • Otherwise identify the act with the date of enactment or effectiveness (abbreviated per Appx. 3(A))
  • Law abbreviation
  • The abbreviation "No."
  • Law number
  • Pinpoint reference (if applicable)
  • Volume
  • Abbreviated name of session law publication (See Appx. 1)
  • Pages and sections (if pinpoint citing give the beginning page and the relevant page to which you are citing)
  • Year
  • Codification information (as a parenthetical)

Examples

Immigration and Nationality Act, Pub. L. No. 82-414, § 101, 66 Stat. 163, 167 (1952) (codified as amended at 8 U.S.C. § 1101).

Act of Apr. 12, 1994, § 2, 1993-1994 Ohio Laws 6546, 6548-50.

Codes

Overview

A code is a subject arrangement of the laws of a jurisdiction. There are official and unofficial codes. A code may be annotated (containing editorial enhancements to help with research or interpretation) or unannotated. The advantages of using a code for research include:

  1. the fact that codes collate original laws with later amendments,
  2. they bring all laws on the same subject together, and
  3. they eliminate repealed, superseded, or expired laws.

In addition to the statutes, many codes contain constitutions and court rules.

Finding a Code by Citation

Retrieving  a statute by legal citation is the easiest and fastest way to get the specific case to which the citation refers.

Example of a United States Code citation:

42 (title) U.S.C. (Code abbreviation) Section 1983 (2006)

Suppose our citation was for 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 and I wanted to find this statute in print.

  1. I would first find the United States Code, United States Code Annotated, or United States Code Service in the UC Law Library print collection.
  2. Then I would find the volume or volumes containing title 42. 
  3. Next I would look for the section 1983 within the appropriate volume.

To find this statute online:

  • WestlawNext:  type the 42 U.S.C.A. 1983 in the search box at the top of the screen.
  • Lexis Advance:  type the 42 U.S.C.S. 1983 in the search box at the top of the screen.

A word about retrieving state statutes by citation online:

  • Lexis Advance and WestlawNext can be picky about the format for state statute citations and that format does not necessarily follow Bluebook form. Your best bet is to begin typing the statute citation. For example, typing in Ohio Rev. Code § 3503.06 will not directly pull up the statute in WestlawNext (but it will in Lexis Advance). Searching for ORC § 3503.06 will retrieve the statute in both as will typing Ohio Revised Code § 3503.06.  
  • In WestlawNext, putting the state postal abbreviation in front of your section will usually work:  OH St 3503.06.

Code Organization

The structure and organization of statutory codes will vary by jurisdiction. 

Federal

The United States Code, the subject arrangement of federal statutes, is arranged  by subject  into 51 subject titles, with chapter and section subdivisions.  Of the 51 titles, the following titles have been enacted into positive (statutory) law: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, 51, and 54. When a title of the Code is enacted into positive law, the text of the title becomes legal evidence of the law. Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large still govern.

When looking at a code section, you will see the text of the section, then historical notes, the Statutes at Large citation, and references to related code sections.

State

In Ohio, the statutes are broadly organized by titles (there are 33) and then further broken down by articles, chapters, and sections.  For more information on Ohio codes, see the Ohio Legal Research Guide

State Codes with Subjects:

Some states, such as California, Maryland, New York, and Texas, use subject words for their broader organization. If you look in Table 1 of the Bluebook or Appendix 1 of ALWD under one of those jurisdictions, they will give you the subject break downs. You actually include those subjects in your citation.

Where Codes Are Published

Federal

Official (unannotated)

United States Code (U.S.C.)

  • The USC is published every six years with cumulative bound supplements issued in between editions. Publication typically runs several years behind.

Unofficial (annotated)

State

Publication of state codes will vary. The Law Library's state codes are located on the 4th floor with the other state materials at call numbers KFA through KFZ. Note that most of the print codes are no longer being updated.

Ohio

Ohio does not publish an official version of the Ohio Revised Code, instead unofficial versions of the code are published. 

Citation Format for Codes

Bluebook

Rule 12 of The Bluebook (20th ed.) covers the citation of statutes.

Elements

  • Name and original section number as it appears in the session laws (only if the statute is commonly cited that way)
  • Title, Chapter, or Volume (see  T. 1, 1.3)
  • Code (cite to the official code if at all possible)
  • Section
  • Publisher, editor or compiler (unless the code is published by or under the supervision of government officials)
  • Year (on spine or title page if available, otherwise year on title page, and if not that, the copyright year)
  • Supplements (see Rule 3.1 to cite any material appearing in supplements)

Examples:

42 U.S.C.§ 1983 (2006).

8 U.S.C. §§ 1187-89 (2006 & Supp. IV 2011).

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3503.06 (West 2007).

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3503.06 (LexisNexis 2009).

Citing to Online Codes -- Rule 12.5 and 18.3:

The Bluebook requires you to cite to the official code if it is available. If citing to a statute that is available on a commercial online service such as Lexis or Westlaw, provide the following:

  • Title, Chapter, or Volume (see  T. 1)
  • Code (cite to the official code if at all possible)
  • Section
  • Publisher, editor or compiler
  • Name of the database
  • Currency of the database

Examples:

Ohio Rev. Stat. Ann. § 3503.06 (Lexis Advance through File 24 (HB 238) of the 131st GA, with some gaps).

Ohio Rev. Stat. Ann. § 3503.06 (WestlawNext through 2015 Files 1 to 10, and 12 to 24 of the 131st GA (2015-2016)).

ALWD

Rule 14 of the ALWD Citation Manual (4th ed.) covers the citations to codes.

Elements

A citation to the Federal statutes should include the following:

  • Title number (if applicable)
  • Code Abbreviation (cite to official code where possible - see Appendix 1)
  • Section
  • Publisher (if unofficial)
  • Date

Examples

42 U.S.C.§ 1983 (2006).

8 U.S.C. §§ 1187-89 (2006 & Supp. IV 2011).

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3503.06 (West 2007).

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3503.06 (LexisNexis 2009).

Online Codes

  • Use regular citation form but add the name of the database provider and currency information

CALI Lesson on Codifcation of Statutes

CALI LogoAvailable to Law Students only (see a reference librarian if you do not have a CALI activation code).

Statutory Finding Tools

Overview

There are several useful statutory finding tools that you can use when researching statutes.  These tools can save you time and money.  Some of them may be familiar to you such as indexes and table of contents.  Others may be new to you such as the popular names table.

Statutory Indexes

Index Tips & Tricks

All print codes and some online codes will contain separate subject indexes.  An index is a great finding tool.  Topics are listed alphabetically and will refer you to the codified statutory sections pertaining to that topic.  

  • Cross References
    • If you see an index entry for a topic that gives you another term and then states generally this index, it is telling you to search for that other term in the index.
  • et seq
    • Latin for "and the following ones."  In other words, multiple sections -- it is just giving you the first one.

Online Codes

  • Westlaw contains indexes for all of its statutes
  • HeinOnline contains an index for the United States Code
  • Lexis Advance does not provide any indexes for its state statutes but does for the United States Code Service

Parallel Reference Tables

Each code includes volumes that contain tables for parallel references. Locate the session law citation or public law number you are interested in on the table, and it will provide you with the title and section numbers where the statute has been codified.

Codes will also contain tables that relate older state codifications to the current code.

Finding a Statute by Popular Name

Popular Names

Sometimes a statute will have an official or popular name.  If there is a well-known name for the law you are interested in, consult the "Popular Names Table" in one of the code versions. This will provide you with the public law number and the Statutes at Large citation for the original act, as well as providing references to where the act has been codified.

An example of a popular name is the "USA PATRIOT Act."  The official name is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001."  Quite a mouthful!   Another example of an act with a name is the Americans with Disabilities Act.  You can see in the image below that when you look at the Popular Name Table, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has been codified at 42 U.S.C. § 12101 and following.

Popular Name Table

Where to Find the Popular Names Table

Print

The "Popular Names Table" may be a separate volume or be a section within the last volume of the general index. 

Online

  • Westlaw contains popular names tables for all of its statutes. 
  • Bloomberg Law provides a popular names table for the United States Code
  • HeinOnline provides a popular names table for the United States Code
  • Lexis Advance does not provide a popular names table for any of its state statutes but it does for USCS. 

CALI Lesson on Finding Statutes

CALI LogoAvailable to Law Students only (see a reference librarian if you do not have a CALI activation code).

More Help for Statutes

Constitutions & Statutes

LLM Students statutes and court rules

Please note that Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law are only available to law students and law faculty.

Bloomberg Law Tutorials & Help with Statutes

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Please note that Bloomberg Law is only available to law students and law faculty. You must sign on to Bloomberg Law in order to access the tutorials.

Law Library Useful Links

Get Help & About the Author

About the Author

Susan BolandSusan M. Boland
Associate Director of Public & Research Services
Robert S. Marx Law Library
Office 315
susan.boland@uc.edu
v: (513) 556-4407
f: (513) 556-6265

Susan Boland is the Associate Director of Public & Research Services for the University of Cincinnati Robert. S. Marx Law Library. She teaches legal research and offers reference and research support services to all law library users. Prior to joining the law library faculty, she was the Head of Information Services for the Ruth Lilly Law Library at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law and the Research & Instructional Services librarian at Northern Illinois University College of Law. She has also held positions at a public library and community college library and served as a judicial clerk for the Iowa District Court for the Fifth Judicial District.  She is a member of various professional associations both regionally and nationally, and was Chair of the Computing Services Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries. She has presented at regional and national conferences, as well as at continuing legal education programs. Her publications include annotated bibliographies on the death penalty and election law, as well as articles on legal research, technology, and teaching.

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