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U.S. Government : Legislative Branch

a guide to resources for researching legislative branch (Congressional) publications.


U.S. Federal statutes are published in 3 iterations:

  • Slip laws : the initial publication of newly-enacted laws
    Slip laws are published individually before being incorporated into the U.S. Statutes at Large.
  • Session laws : the chronological compilation of laws enacted during a congressional session
    Session laws are published in the U.S. Statutes at Large.
  • Statutory Codes : the currently-enforced law arranged by topic
    Statutory Codes are published in the U.S. Code and are arranged by topics, called Titles.

U.S. Federal statutes are divided into:

  • Public laws: "The body of law dealing with the relations between private individuals and the government, and with the structure and operation of the government itself.” [Black’s Law Dictionary]
  • Private laws: "The body of law dealing with private persons and their property and relationships.” [Black’s Law Dictionary] (for example: appealing an executive ruling such as deportation)

In print in the Libraries:



Public Law number
Follows the pattern:

P.L. [Congress number] - [Act number]

P.L. 110-84 is the 84th Public Law passed by the 110th Congress.


U.S. Statutes at Large
Follows the pattern:

[volume number] STAT. [page number]

121 STAT. 784: Find the text of P.L. 110-84 as it was passed on page 784 of volume 121 of the U.S. Statutes at Large.


U.S. Code
Follows the pattern:

[title number] USC [section number]

20 USC 1015a points to Section 1015a of Title 20 of the United States Code.


You may also see the U.S. Code citation with punctuation, as in 42 U.S.C. §1396. The § is the symbol for the word section.

The U.S. Code is the official publication of laws currently in force. It is published by the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

Another common U.S. Code citation is U.S.C.A. (or USCA), as in 42 U.S.C.A. §1396. This abbreviation stands for United States Code Annotated.

Similarly, U.S.C.S. (or USCS) stands for United States Code Service.

Both the USCA and USCS are commercially published. Though not official government publications, both publish the U.S. Code with updates and annotations helpful to researchers.