Skip to main content

Government Information Basics: Laws and Bills

Who has it?

Note: This is a basic overview of finding United States laws and bills and it is not comprehensive. For more in depth help please contact the Government Information Library.  

Only a lawyer can advise you on legal issues. We can help you find the text of a law, but we cannot help you understand it nor can we advise you on how a law effects you or anyone else. If you need this kind of help please contact a lawyer. 

In the United States Congress is governing body that makes laws. Finding laws can seem difficult, but if you have citation like this: Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-1332 (2012), the text of the law is relatively easy to find.

Often, however, when a person is looking for a law they also want an interpretation of the law, or to know what the law means. In the United States the mandate to interpret law is left to the court system, specifically the Supreme Court.  These are called opinions and you can find these thorough U.S. Federal and State Court systems.

You can also search for law reviews, which are scholarly writings about laws usually published by lawyers. 

A Bill is legislation that has been proposed and is under consideration by legislature. In the U.S this is the House and the Senate. As you would probably guess Bills are going to be produced by Congress and you can find them, especially current Bills, at Congress.gov, House.gov, and  Senate.gov. It is helpful to know the name of the Bill or the Bill number. A Bill number will look like this: H.R. 3950 111th United States Congress. H.R. stands for House of Representatives and S stands for Senate. If you don't knw this information  you can do a key word search in Congress.gov, but it is helpful to have an idea of what bill you are looking for. Google can often be helpful for finding out what Bills relate to your topic. 

Where to look?

For recent Bills Congress.gov is a good place to start. Knowing as much about the bill as possible can be very helpful in finding it. 

For Federal Law look in the United States Code. You can find both laws and bills in ProQuest Congressional along with many other Legislative and Executive Documents.

Google can also be an effective tool in locating the full text for many laws and bills, this especially true if you are not sure of some of the information about the Bill or law. 

Finally, if you would like more context for a bill and law there are a number free legal research sources. The Legal Information Institute and Govinfo.gov are two great free sources. Students and staff will also want to use Hein Online for legal journals. 

Recent Court Cases and Opinions can often be found on the court's website. If you want Supreme Court Opinions you can go to the Supreme Court's website and look for opinions

You can also us Govinfo.gov to find court opinions. Navigate to the advanced search option, then under "Refine by Collection" scroll to find U.S. Court Opinions.

Tools

Other Resources

How a Bill Becomes a Law