This is the "General Introduction" page of the "Legislative History--Federal" guide.
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Fordham University Law Library
This is a step-by-step guide for locating or compiling the legislative history of federal statutes. Read the General Introduction below and then follow the steps. To track a bill in the current Congress, go to the Bill Tracking tab.
Last Updated: Dec 5, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Legislative History is the documentary history of a legislative enactment from introduction to presidential signature.  Lawyers and judges use this documentary history to determine the intent of the legislature when statutory language is ambiguous.  If all you really want to do is track a current bill, i.e. locate legistation from the current legislative session that has not been signed into law, click on the tab above labeled Bill Tracking (Current Congress).


The primary documents comprising the legislative history of a federal public law include all of the versions of the bill  and amendments to it, committee reports, hearing transcripts, and debate on the floor of the House or Senate (as published in the Congressional Record).  Some compiled legislative histories include the presidential signing statement.*   Most courts have found that the committee reports, including the conference report which reconciles conflicting house and senate versions of the same bill, are the most valuable sources of legislative intent.   Committee reports reprint the version of the bill that was amended or "marked-up" in the committee and discuss the need for and purpose of the legislation.


Finding legislative history can be challenging but is easier if you go about it systematically.  This libguide provides a step-by-step procedure for locating legislative history of enacted federal statutes.  Each step is accessed from the tabs above.


For all legislation, no matter when it was passed, begin at Step 1.  If the legislation passed within the last15 years, continue to Step 2. If your legislation is older than about 15 years,  skip ahead to Step 4.


If you don't need a complete legislative history but are looking for congressional documents on a certain subject, skip to step 5.  Feel free to skip any steps that do not seem useful to you. 


If you feel you would like a better understanding of the legislative process, read How Our Laws Are Made, by the Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives, Charles W. Johnson. For a table which correlates the number of a particular congress with its years, consult the Years of Congress Conversion Table.  For standard abbreviations and explanations of various types of legislation, consult the Congressional Bills Glossary.  A useful introduction to legislative history written by the Congressional Research Services is available here.  


*Few if any courts have ever cited presidential signing statements as evidence of legislative intent and many courts and commentators would consider doing so a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. 


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