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Federal Legislative History Research Guide: Start Here

Finding federal legislative history.

US Capitol through the trees


US Capitol Building with "the Senate" on one side and the "House of Representatives" on other side

Understanding federal legislative history can be a vital component to interpreting the meaning of enacted legislation. Knowing the history behind a piece of legislation prior to enactment can act as persuasive authority in court, whether to clarify statutory language or interpret legislative intent. The strongest legislative document is usually a Congressional Report. Here you will find more analysis as well. Next comes Bills and Congressional Debates. These will also give you background information and analysis. Other legislative material should be considered but will likely involve more factual basis rather than persuasive authority. 

Order of Priority

Legislative History Documents and Order of Priority Generally

1) Public Law (the plain text of the law is the most binding in any interpretation)

 2) Committee Reports (look for the section-by-section analysis)

3) Congressional Record (remarks & debate - especially from chief sponsors)

4) Bill Texts (how provision changed in its various stages, including related bills)

5) Congressional Hearings (especially related testimony from implementing agencies)

6) Congressional Committee Prints (often includes some kind of study or analysis of the bill)

7) Presidential Signing Statements (found in Compilation of Presidential Documents)

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