Skip to Main Content

Statutes Research Guide: Published Statutes

Comparing laws on the same subject across many jurisdictions

Image: Statutes banner, pointy roof of a building

Published Laws and Statutes

Statutes are often referred to as codes or acts, and even just "law."  They are published in three intervals:

  1. Slip laws
  2. Session laws
  3. Codes

Slip Laws

Statutes are published in slip form soon after being enacted.  Slip laws are the first to be printed or appear online after enactment, and are used to find the latest legislation.

Slip laws provide information in the headings and margin notes about enactment dates.  They reference the place where the law will be codified, for example, in the United States Code (U.S.C.).  At the end of the slip law, there is often useful information on legislative history materials, such as Senate or House reports. 

Slip laws may be cited by a public law number, which incorporates the number of the enacting legislative session and the chronological number of the bill in that session.

Session Laws

Session laws are all the slip laws enacted in a legislative session arranged chronologically by enactment date. Session laws contain the complete text of laws exactly as they are enacted.  They are the most authoritative form of the law, and usually control when there are differences in wording from a session law to a final published code. (For more information on this topic, see What Happens When There is an Inconsistency Between the Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code?) Session laws are used in historical research and in compiling legislative histories.

Statutes at Large are the official source of the session laws of Congress; these session laws include reference to a public law number.


Codes provide the most complete picture of the law at a particular time, and are used to find the current legislation in a particular jurisdiction. Codes bring together related statutes and incorporate amendments into the text of existing statutes.  They are arranged by individual subjects called titles.  Code volumes usually contain references to the session law that have been incorporated in a particular code section.

When conducting research, it is advisable to use an annotated code.  Annotated codes cross-reference other relevant statutes, regulations, cases, legislative documents and secondary sources.

Sample Citation [Bluebook R. 12.4]

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 111-203, § 929-Z, 124 Stat. 1376, 1871 (2010) (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 78o)

Official U.S. Laws for Law Review

Public Laws (Slip Laws)

Also available in print in the library's Federal Law section.

U.S. Statutes at Large

Also available in print in the library's Federal Law section.

State Session Laws

All 50 states have an official, chronological compilation of the laws passed during the legislative session, similar to the U.S. Statutes at Large. Check Table 1 of The Bluebook for the official name and citation of each state's session laws.

Finding State Session Laws

Most state legislature websites will provide online access to recent state session laws. These free sites link to all 50 state legislative information portals:

State Legislatures (Legal Information Institute)

State Laws from Law Librarians' Society of Washington DC

For in-depth, comparative, or historical research, the following databases are the best places to search:

HeinOnline's Session Laws Library.  PDFs of the official, bound session laws for all U.S. states and territories, many dating back to colonial and pre-statehood laws.


Research Help

We're here to help. Contact a research librarian for help with an assignment, project, or resource. 

Mon-Fri, 10am

Coronavirus Response Site
Reference Hours
Reserve a Virtual Study Room