A primary source in law often refers to the text of the law itself.
The law is made up of constitutions, statutes, codes and ordinances.
Administrative law decisions and case law are also primary sources of the law.
Primary sources are often part of a federal depository library collection.
The United States Government is the largest publisher in the world.
It distributes materials in a variety of formats, including electronic, CD, microfiche, and paper.
As part of its publishing program, the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) distributes certain classes of Government documents free of cost to designated libraries throughout the United States and its territories. These libraries are known as Federal depository libraries.
Federal depository libraries must offer free, public access to their Federal collections, even if the depository library is part of a private academic institution. In addition, information specialists are available at these libraries to assist the American public to locate Federal information.
NOTE: The GPO was formerly known as the Government Printing Office, and many of the links displayed on the website for gpoaccess.gov are now invalid.
Administrative units of the federal government (agencies) are often charged with interpreting the law that governs their field. Additionally, these agencies draft rules and regulations about the areas they oversee.
These rules, regulations, and decisions are binding. Agencies publish relevant information, their proposed rules, and decisions; the federal government collects all of the agencies' materials in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
Case Law (Judicial Opinions)
Case law refers to reported judicial opinions that interpret the law and become the law.
An opinion is considered primary law where:
1. Court applying the opinion is bound by the opinion, e.g., higher court opinions bind lower courts,
2. Subsequent decisions avoid treating that opinion negatively
Other cases may have persuasive value only.
The West Reporter System publishes cases and law libraries provide various versions of the Reporter. Some online sources provided free case law, although coverage is incomplete.
College of Law | 504 East Pennsylvania Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 Phone (217) 333-0931 | Albert J. Jenner, Jr., Law Library