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Law 627: Legal Research: Unit 5: Statutes

Unit 5: Overview

This page will provide you with an overview of statutory codes.

At the end of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Recall the publication process for statutory law
  • List the documents available at each stage of the legislative process
  • Articulate the difference between a Session Law and Statutory Code
  • Explain how the U.S. Code is organized
  • Apply understanding of legal research systems and primary law to find relevant cases for a statutory problem

Unit 5: Readings

Federal Statutes: Definitions

Annotated Code -- see Unit 8: Intermediation

Bill -- A legislative proposal for a law

Code / Statutory Code -- A law (statute) published as a subject arrangement. When a new law is passed, all of its components have a place in the existing Code (the United States (U.S.) Code, at the federal level), in their appropriate places.

Enactment -- Used in conjunction with the date, and refers to the date of signature by the President

Public Law -- A law (statute) published in the U.S. Statutes at Large

Session Law -- All the laws passed during a given session of Congress, published in order of passage (and numbered as such)

Slip Law -- The first published form of a law (statute)

Statute -- A law enacted by a legislative body - such as Congress. Statutes are the primary source of law in the United States, and typically authorize an administrative agency (such as the Federal Communications Commission, or the Securities Exchange Commission) to adopt rules pursuant to the Statute.

Resources - "The official website for U.S. federal legislative information." For Bills, Laws, U.S. Code, and coverage of current legislative activity. From the Library of Congress. 

govinfo - managed by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (U.S. GPO); authoritative source for Congressional, Federal agency, and Executive branch materials

Legal Information Institute (LII) (Cornell Law School) - free source for the U.S. Code and CFR, the Wex legal encyclopedia, and other free access to U.S. law

ProQuest Congressional - subscription source for legislative history (Congressional hearings and committee documents)

American Memory: A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation - Digital documents from 1774-1875 from the Library of Congress

Citation of Statutes

Thinking Outside the Box(es)

In any statutory problem, you will want to find out how the statute has been applied to real people and situations, and whether it has changed over time. To see both, you should look at:

  • The history section of the code (printed after the text of the code itself)
  • Case law (short summaries of notable cases also appear after the text of an annotated code)
  • "Looseleaf services" in print or online form, with practice advice and support organized by the code structure

In Lexis+ or Westlaw Edge, which both have annotated versions of the U.S. Code, pull up the statute that sets out the factors for "fair use" as a defense to copyright infringement, and find out what it says about using clips from broadcast sports events in a television news program. The citation is 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Unit 5: Self-Test (formerly Unit 4 Self-Test)

State Statutes

Unit 5: Statutes on focuses on the federal system, which serves as a model for the state systems. In practice, you will need to spend some time acquainting yourself with the appropriate state system. State legislative process varies and statutory schemes can follow one of several different patterns for organization. For instance, California has many codes, each covering a broad subjects such as Corporations and Insurance. For a quick comparison of code structures, see the Legal Information Institute (LII).

Understanding Legislation

Legislation, also called Statutes (or sometimes simply "laws"), is produced by the legislative branch of the Federal (U.S. Congress) or a state government (Illinois legislature).

Legislation is created by a process of drafting, discussion, amendment, study and voting, with signature from the executive (President of the U.S. or Governor of the state) in order for it to become law. Until signature, it is still just a bill -- a draft, not a law.

The legislative process tends to be slow: a bill can take up to two years to become law. It could actually take longer, but if a bill doesn't pass by the end of the 2-year congressional term, members of the House of Representative and/or the Senate must start over by introducing it again in the next term. 

Statutes are highly structured, organized documents. The form of statutes that you will encounter most often in research and practice a Code (U.S. Code or a state code). Codes are organized into subject groupings, so that all laws related to criminal procedure, for example, are kept together. The subject groupings are usually called Titles, and are numbered in roughly alphabetical order. For example, the subject of Title 17 of the U.S. Code is Copyrights (or copyright law) and the subject of Title 18 is Crimes and Criminal Procedure

Statutes also follow a structured outline format within each Title:

  • Title 17 - Copyrights
    • Chapter 1 - Subject Matter and Scope
      • § 101 - Definitions

Each title is organized by Chapter, Subchapter, and Section (§). Sections should be read in context, along with the sections that precede and follow, as well as any definitions at the start of the Chapter or Subchapter. 

U.S. Code Excerpt: 21 U.S.C. ยง 61 (Title 21. Food and Drugs > Chapter 3. Filled Milk > Section 61. Definitions)

§ 61. Definitions.

Whenever used in this Act [21 U.S.C.S. §§ 61 et seq.] --

(a) The term "person" includes an individual, partnership, corporation, or association;

(b) The term "interstate or foreign commerce" means commerce (1) between any State, Territory, or possession, or the District of Columbia, and any place outside thereof; (2) between points within the same State, Territory, or possession, or within the District of Columbia, but through any place outside thereof; or (3) within any Territory or possession, or within the District of Columbia; and

(c) The term "filled milk" means any milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, powdered, dried, or desiccated, to which has been added, or which has been blended or compounded with, any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is in imitation or semblance of milk, cream, or skimmed milk, whether or not condensed, evaporated, concentrated, powdered, dried, or desiccated. This definition shall not include any distinctive proprietary food compound not readily mistaken in taste for milk or cream or for evaporated, condensed, or powdered milk, or cream: Provided, that such compound (1) is prepared and designed for feeding infants and young children and customarily used on the order of a physician; (2) is packed in individual cans containing not more than sixteen and one-half ounces and bearing a label in bold type that the content is to be used only for said purpose; (3) is shipped in interstate or foreign commerce exclusively to the physicians, wholesale and retail druggists, orphan asylums, child-welfare associations, hospitals, and similar institutions and generally disposed of by them.


(March 4, 1923, ch. 262, § 1, 42 Stat. 1486.)

U.S. Statutes at Large Excerpt: Chapter 262 (Public Law 67-513) (March 4, 1923)

Text of a Federal session law, Chapter 262, An Act to prohibit the shipment of filled milk in interstate or foreign commerce.

Legislative Process

heading legislative process. 1. Image of people at a table. Text: Legislators draft a bill, alone or with co-sponsors. 2. Image of a sheet of paper with writing. Text: Introduce it in the House or Senate.  3. Image of people at a table. Text: A Committee reviews and reports it to the full House or Senate.  4. Image of a legislative building. Text: Votes are taken by the full House or Senate. 5. Image of thumbs up and thumbs down. Text: President signs or vetoes it. If signed, it becomes law.

When you want to do research on the Federal legislative process, you can look for the documents produced at each stage along the way:

1-2. Every time a bill is introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, it is given a Bill Number and published as a government document. Bills can be found on, govinfo, ProQuest Congessional, and in other library collections. 

3. House and Senate Committees are the bodies charged with reviewing bills. A Committee can sit on a bill or "report it out," meaning that it is recommended for discussion on the full floor of the House or Senate. Committee Reports are available on, govinfo, ProQuest Congressional, and a number of other sources, depending on the date of the bill. Committees also hold Hearings, either in conjunction with a bill or a topic. Experts and others may be called to give testimony before the Committee. Transcripts and prepared statements before the Committees are available under the umbrella of Committee Hearings (or Hearing Transcripts), which may be found in govinfo and ProQuest Congressional.

4. When bills are introduced, discussed, debated, and/or brought to a vote, it is done on the House or Senate floor. The transcript of House and Senate floor debates/proceedings are published as the Congressional Record, and it is available widely, including on, govinfo, ProQuest Congressional, and HeinOnline.

5. When a bill passes both houses of Congress, it is then presented to the President of the United States for signature, If the President signs it, it becomes law, is given a Public Law number, and is published both on its own as a Slip Law, and in the U.S. Statutes at Large. The U.S. Statutes at Large also includes additional information, such as the Presidential Signing Statement (if there is one), the number of the bill that was ultimately passed (i.e., which version - House or Senate), and information about the Conference Committee Report (if there is one), which reports on the resolution (or harmonization) of language between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

6. Finally, the new law is incorporated into the U.S. Code, which is organized by subject-based groupings called Titles.