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Guide to Law Online: U.S. Federal

Legislative Branch

Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. U.S. Capitol dome, Washington, D.C. [Between 1980 and 2006]. Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress.

The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the U.S. government, consisting of two houses or chambers: the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The U.S. Congress is what is known as a bicameral system. The Constitution of the United States calls for two Senators from each state (100 Senators) and no more than 435 Representatives, each proportionally representing the population of the 50 states.

The following links to government and non-government websites provide access to free online legal resources related to the legislative branch of the United States government.

Federal Laws and Bills

The United States Code (U.S.C.) is a continually updated consolidation and codification, by subject matter, of the general and permanent laws of the United States. It is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives and printed by the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

The Popular Name Table is an alphabetical list of popular and statutory names of Acts of the U.S. Congress. Entries for an Act may contain the Act's citations, such as the U.S. Statutes at Large (Stat.), Public Law number (Pub.L.), enactment date, and United States Code (U.S.C.) codification information.

The United States Statutes at Large, typically referred to as the Statutes at Large, and abbreviated as Stat., is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress. These public and private laws are published in chronological order, by the date of enactment. Additional material in the Statutes at Large include concurrent resolutions, proclamations by the President, proposed and ratified amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and reorganization plans. Treaties and international agreements approved by the Senate were published in the Statutes at Large until 1948.

Public laws (Pub. L.), also called slip laws, are the first publication of enacted laws that affect society as a whole. Public laws are distinct from private laws, which typically affect an individual, family, or small group. Public and private laws are published in chronological order in the U.S. Statutes at Large. For more information on public laws, see the U.S. Government Publishing Office's "About Public and Private Laws" webpage.

Bills are legislative proposals introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for consideration and debate. Bills can come in eight forms, including bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions. If a bill does not pass and become law in a Congress, it may be reintroduced in a subsequent Congress for further consideration. For additional information on bills and the legislative process, see the "Learn About the Legislative Process" webpage.

Debates of Congress

The Congressional Record and its predecessor titles are daily publications of proceedings of the U.S. Congress. The Congressional Record includes legislative activity by the House and Senate, Member remarks and debates, and communications from the President. The Congressional Record is initially published in a Daily Edition with four sections (Daily Digest, House, Senate, Extension of Remarks). At the end of a session of Congress, the Daily Edition is reorganized and paginated and published in the Bound Edition.

Congressional Committee Materials

Congressional committee reports are written by committees within the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Reports dealing with a particular piece of legislation may provide a detailed analysis of the legislation as well as background information on why it is important, including its purpose, background on the need for the legislation, summary of committee action, and summary of any changes to existing law. A report dealing with an investigation will include information on the committee's findings. For more information on congressional committee hearings, see the Government Publishing Office's "About Congressional Reports" page.

Congressional hearings are held by committees of the U.S. Congress typically to obtain information on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or to evaluate the implementation of a law or the activities of a governmental department. As it may take quite some time for printed hearings to become available, researchers may also find it valuable to review video recordings of more recent hearings, as described in the guide. For more information on congressional committee hearings, see the Government Publishing Office's "About Congressional Hearings" page.

Congressional committee prints are publications prepared for, or commissioned by, congressional committees to inform committee members’ legislative or oversight activities. The content of a committee print varies widely and might include drafts of reports and bills, directories, bibliographies, statistics, staff research reports, transcripts of markup sessions, studies, hearings and hearings excerpts, digests, and analysis. For more information on congressional committee prints, visit the Government Publishing Office’s “About Congressional Committee Prints” page.

Congressional documents include various types of material ordered printed by committees, including, for example, committee prints ordered printed as documents for wider distribution, and reports of executive departments and agencies. Senate Executive Documents, known as Senate Treaty Documents since 1981, contain the text of a treaty as it is submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by the President of the United States. For more information on congressional documents, visit the Government Publishing Office’s "About Congressional Documents" page.

Committee legislative calendars provide a comprehensive record of the activity of the committee during one Congress. The contents and organization varies, but they may include, for example, committee, subcommittee, and staff membership lists, summaries and status of the legislative bills and resolutions under consideration, dates of meetings and hearings, and lists of printed committee prints and hearings.

Note, these are distinct from the congressional calendars of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate as described on the Government Publishing Office's "About Congressional Calendars" page.

Congressional Process and Procedure

Additional Materials