Skip to main content

Federal Statutes: A Beginner’s Guide

United States Code

photo of 80th Congress
80th Congress. Photograph shows a joint session of the 80th Congress. Spectators are in the gallery. 1946. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The next publication step is for all of the new laws to be integrated into the pre-existing body of law. Currently, this compilation of all the “general and permanent laws” of the United States is the United States Code.2 The United States Code organizes statutes by subject, and each subject is assigned its own title. For example, Title 51 concerns National and Commercial Space Programs. Titles are then “subdivided into a combination of smaller units such as subtitles, chapters, subchapters, parts, subparts, and sections, not necessarily in that order.” The United States Code contains quite a few finding aids, including a subject index and several helpful tables, such as a Popular Name Table that shows where frequently-referenced laws are codified in the United States Code and a Statutes at Large Table that lists the public laws in chronological order and links them both to their Statutes at Large citation and to where they are codified in the United States Code.

History

The United States Code was first published in 1926. A new edition is printed every six years and is supplemented annually.  The United States Code is currently organized into 53 subject titles (titles 1­­-52 and 54, with title 53 in reserve) and includes an index and other supplementary tables. One particularly helpful table is the popular names table, which lists statutes by name and provides their public law numbers, Statutes at Large citations, and United States Code citations. Another is the Statutes at Large table, which lists statutes by Statutes at Large citation and provides their public law numbers and United States Code citations.

Sources for the U.S. Code

Revised Statutes and the United States Code are available in print in the Law Library Reading Room (see catalog links, below). Different versions of the United States Code can be found both online and in print. The most popular of these options is highlighted below:

Online sources

The most popular free online sources include:

Subscription Databases

The United States Code can also be found in several online subscription databases, such as HeinOnline, Lexis, and Westlaw.  Simply contact your local public law or academic law library to determine if you can access these sources on site.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Print Sources

In addition to the official print version of the United States Code published by the OLRC, commercial publishers also publish versions of the Code.  In fact, these versions can often be of great help to researchers, as they are annotated, meaning that they provide references to cases, regulations, and law review articles, among many other sources, related to each section of the Code.  Two of the most widely-used annotated versions of the Code are the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service.

Should you choose to use any version of the Code in print, be sure to check the back of the volume for a pocket part or the shelf for a supplementary soft-bound volume for updates.

The United States Code and Revised Statutes of the United States are both available in the Law Library Reading Room.

There are two commercially published, annotated versions of the United States Code:  the USCS and USCA.  These versions include annotations with references to cases and regulations that interpret statutes and relevant secondary sources, and are updated by pocket-part supplements.  Like the United States Code, both also have indices and supplemental tables.  The USCS and USCA are available in the Law Library Reading Room.

Notes

  1. It is important to note that, unless otherwise stated in the source note, the United States Code is not “positive law.” In the case where a title has not been enacted into positive law, and there is a discrepancy between the language of the United States Code and the Statutes at Large, you should rely upon the Statutes at Large.  For an explanation of positive law and a discussion of which titles have been enacted into positive law, please visit the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Positive Law Codification website. Back to text