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Bluebook Guide: Statutes

A LibGuide to the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Updated for the 20th edition.

What about states?

State statute citation follows similar principles to federal statute citation, but may look very different.  

Check out the state's entry in T1.3 to determine the right way to cite the statute.

What year?

The Bluebook requires you to provide the year your source was published.  This can be a little tricky to find, especially if you access the statute through Lexis or Westlaw.

If you are citing to the official United States Code, you should know that it is only published every six years.  To figure out what year the last official version was published, visit the Office of Law Revision Counsel's website

If you are citing to the USCS on Lexis Advance, you can find what date the online database is current through by clicking the "i" icon next to the name of the source and looking for information under "coverage."

Similarly, if you are citing to the USCA on Westlaw, scroll down to the very bottom of the page to see a message like "Current through P.L. 112-3 approved 2-25-11"

In reality, you will usually be able to list the current year in your citations to Lexis and Westlaw.  Just pay special attention in January and February.

Additional help with the bluebook

Statute citation: B12

The statute citation rules in the bluepages start at B12 on page 18 of your bluebook.  Statutes, rules, and regulations all follow a similar citation format. 

Follow the step by step instructions below to create a citation to a federal statute.

Full Citation: B 12.1

Let's start by assuming you are citing to an entire federal statute as codified in the U.S. Code.  To learn more about how laws are published, see this description from the Library of Congress

Example: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 9601-9675 (2012).

created from this:

TITLE 42. THE PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELFARE  
CHAPTER 103. COMPREHENSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSE, COMPENSATION, AND LIABILITY  
HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES RELEASES, LIABILITY, COMPENSATION

42 USCS § 9601

A full citation has three elements:

  1. the official name of the act
  2. the published source in which the act may be found:
    1. the Bluepages encourage you to cite to the current official code, see T1 to find the recommended source and the correct abbreviation
    2. U.S. Code citation follows the form: (title number) U.S.C. § (section number).  Note that you leave out the chapter number.
  3. a parenthetical indicating the year the source was published (see the sidebar on this page)

Just citing to a particular section of the code?  You can drop the name of the act:  42 U.S.C. § 9601 (2012).

USCA and USCS

In legal research, you learned that annotated codes are a very helpful research tool.  Indeed, it is very rewarding to use an annotated code...until it comes time to cite it.

According to the Bluebook, you really should cite to the official U.S. Code, published every six years and available for free online in its official version in a couple of places: FDSys, Office of Law Revision Counsel.

What if you're going to skip that and cite to the annotated code anyway?

Give the correct abbreviation for the code and include the name of the publisher in the parenthetical with the year.- B12.1.1

ex. 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 2012).

The same rule applies to unofficial state codes.  Look at T1 for more information on what's official and unofficial in your state.

Short form citation: B 12.2

When can you use a short form?  If you have already provided a full citation to the authority, you can switch to a short form for later citations if the full citation falls in the same general discussion, for example in the legislative history subsection of the argument section of your appellate brief, and if the reader will be able to tell what authority you're referring to, and find the full citation for herself.  When in doubt, give the full citation.

Three basic short forms for statutes:

  1. Title Number, Abbreviated Code Name, and Section Number.  Example: 42 U.S.C. § 1983
  2. Section Number. Example: § 1983
  3. Id. (use only when referring to the immediately preceding authority)

Rule 12.2 points you to R12.10 for more guidance on short forms for statutes.  Remember, when you are applying a rule from the whitepages, you must always follow the typeface conventions for non-academic legal documents.  See B1.