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Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library Blog: Blog

Unraveling Legislative Mysteries with Legislative Histories

by Francesco Fasano on 2021-10-19T14:39:00-07:00 | Comments

Becoming proficient at legislative history research, at either the federal or state level, is an undervalued skill to a practitioner. Your time as an attorney is sacred. Becoming more efficient at technical research skills drives value and will help avoid wasting precious time. Here at the reference desk, we field numerous requests from practicing attorneys with help researching legislative histories. Navigating the legislative history of a statute can be tricky and time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Your Cracchiolo Law Library can help you demystify legislative research and unravel legislative mysteries.

Why Legislative Histories? 

There are a few reasons to become proficient at legislative history research. Legislative histories are one piece of the puzzle of statutory construction. When the law is ambiguous, the court will consider the legislative history of the statute to determine the intent of the legislature. 


How to Begin

First, it is essential to have a firm grasp on the legislative process. Next, to avoid reduplicating efforts, be sure to check if the history of the statute is already compiled. This can be done in a few ways. First, narrow in on the statute you wish to research. Then, find the Public Law Number. When Congress passes a statute, it is assigned a Public Law Number and it is published by date in the Statutes at Large. It is then incorporated into the U.S. Code. You can find the Public Law Number that enacted the statute at the bottom of the document, as well as any Public Laws that amended it. Be sure to look at each Public Law Number to see which one deals with the portion of the statute you are researching. 



ProQuest Legislative Insight provides legislative histories from 1789 to present. This includes Public Laws, all versions of enacted and related bills, congressional record excerpts, and committee hearings, reports, and documents. The Cracchiolo Law Library provides access to this service and maintains a LibGuide on using Legislative Insight. Additionally, ProQuest Congressional provides federal legislative histories for proposed bills and bills that did become law. Our library also maintains a LibGuide on ProQuest Congressional for convenient reference.



If what you are searching for is not available on ProQuest Legislative Insight or Congressional, there are more sources of compiled legislative histories to approach.


HeinOnline offers U.S. Federal Legislative History Library- Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories. This subcollection comes from Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books, and was created by the late law librarian Nancy P. Johnson and is now updated by law librarians Ron Wheeler and Jenna Fegreus. They also maintain a LibGuide for their Legislative History Database that is beneficial to reference as you are conducting your research.  


Less robust, Lexis provides the legislative histories of certain acts. Finally, there is a compilation of select legislative histories provided by the Law Librarians Society of Washington D.C.


No Compilation? No Problem!

There will be those certain, unfortunate times where you will not be able to locate a compiled legislative history. That is okay! You will need to create the compilation of the relevant documents yourself using the resources linked above, with emphasis added to the two ProQuest and HeinOnline resources you have access to as students and faculty. WestLaw and Lexis do offer some legislative history material, but their coverage will not be as comprehensive as the previous resources. 

Some other websites to keep in mind when retrieving congressional documents are GovInfo and


State Specific? 

State legislative history research departs from normal federal research, and it is advisable to consult a state specific LibGuide when possible when searching for legislative histories. We maintain a LibGuide on Arizona Legislative History that provides a strategy and guidance when researching Arizona legislative history. 


Some Parting Words 

This research can consume you. Whenever possible, it is highly advisable not to reinvent the wheel and to look to sources that contain compiled legislative histories. Be sure to check case law that may interpret the statute prior to embarking on this journey.

You may not answer your question by diving into legislative history research, and this is particularly true if you are looking to interpret the meaning of a statute. Be aware that legislative documents produced are merely persuasive authority and not mandatory authority.


As always, if you have any research related questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us! We are happy to help here at the law library.

You have 24/7 access to the library via your CatCard. Librarians and Fellows are available for reference questions Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. The Circulation desk is staffed from Monday-Thursday 8am-9pm, Friday 8am-5pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 10am-6pm. We also have Law Library Team! every Wednesday at 1pm. More information here

Email us for all research/reference questions, research appointment scheduling, and ALL QUESTIONS:

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