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Federal Statutes: A Beginner’s Guide

Quick Reference

To See the Law as Originally Passed by Congress:

If you know:

1. The public or private law number (e.g., Pub. L. No. 108-79 or Priv. L. No. 108-2) of the law.

a. To find it online: Browse Public and Private Laws on GPO’s govinfo, or use the Search by Citation feature. Search for public laws on Congress.gov using this format: "PL___-___". (For example, "PL115-45.")

b. To find it in print: For recent public laws, use USCCAN supplements, the USCS Advance supplements to the United States Code Service (USCS) (Call No. KF62 1972 .L38), or the supplements to the United States Code Annotated (USCA) (Call No. KF62.5 .W45). For public laws generally, use United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN) (Call No. KF48 .W45).

2. The Statutes at Large citation (e.g., 117 Stat. 972) of the law.

a. To find it online: Browse Statutes at Large on GPO’s govinfo, or use the Search by Citation feature. For earlier laws, see the Law Library of Congress' online Statutes at Large collection.

b. To find it in print: Use Statutes at Large (Call No. KF50 .U5).

3. The name of the law.

a. To find it online: Search Congress.gov using the name or a part of it, or use the Popular Name Tool on the OLRC website.

b. To find it in print: Check the popular names tables in the United States Code, the USCS, the USCA, or USCCAN. For recent laws, use the popular name tables in USCS Advance supplements, USCA supplements, or USCCAN supplements.

4. The subject of the law.

a. To find it online: For slip laws, search Congress.gov by keyword or phrase. For slip or session laws, search public laws or Statutes at Large on govinfo by keyword or phrase, or consult the index in the relevant volume of Statutes at Large on govinfo.

b. To find it in print: For session laws, consult the index in the relevant volume of Statutes at Large.

To See the Law as Codified in the United States Code:

If you know:

1. The public or private law number (e.g., Pub. L. No. 108-79 or Priv. L. No. 108-2) or Statutes at Large citation (e.g., 117 Stat. 972) of the law.

a. To find it online: Use the Statutes at Large table on the OLRC website. For recent laws, use the classification tables on the OLRC website.

b. To find it in print: Use the Statutes at Large tables in the United States Code, USCS, or USCA, or the notes in the margins of the statute as published in slip law or Statutes at Large format.

2. The name of the law.

a. To find it online: Use the Popular Name Tool on the OLRC website.

b. To find it in print: Use the popular name tables in the United States Code, USCS, or USCA, or Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name. For recent laws, use the popular names tables in USCS Advance supplements.

3. The subject of the law.

a. To find it online: Search the Code by keyword or phrase on the website of the House of Representatives' Office of the Law Revision Counsel or on govinfo.

b. To find it in print: Use the index to the United States Code, USCS, or USCA.