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PS 3530: Legal Writing and Research: Legal Resources

Abbreviations

Self-Help Guides for Westlaw

Finding Legal Resources


A "legislative history" is a generic term used to refer to a variety of documents produced during the enactment process before the legislation becomes law; it does not refer to a single document or research tool.  A legislative history is a secondary source often used by courts to interpret the law.  

The following are the main sources of legislative history.  Usually information from more than one of these sources is necessary to determine legislative intent.

  • Congressional Bills -- different versions of a bill before it becomes law
  • Congressional Committee Hearings -- transcript records containing legislator questions, public input, witness/expert testimonies, exhibits and documents submitted plus all arguments and information submitted by individuals and groups in support and in opposition to some or all of the proposed legislation
  • Congressional Committee Reports -- usually includes the text of the bill, the majority's reasons for recommending the bill, an analysis of the contents of the bill, and the minority's reasons for opposing the bill.  Because the report clearly states the legislators' intent and is prepared by those who worked with the bill, the courts usually consider the report the most authoritative source of legislative history.
  • Congressional Debates -- published in the Congressional Record.  Arguments for and against a bill and amendments to a bill.  Debates often include explanations of provisions of the bill, its purpose, or how it applies.  

Sources of compiled legislative histories: