This guide is intended to assist the researcher who is conducting a legislative history using the resources available at the Thompson Library, University of Michigan-Flint. Please note that Thompson Library is not a member of the Federal Depository Library Program. However, both the Government Documents and Law Library on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan are depository libraries.
A legislative history refers in general to the documentation created during the legislative process, from the introduction of a bill through the various steps before it either becomes a law, is vetoed or just dies in session. It should be noted that the majority of bills do not become law. However, the documentation each bill generates may contribute useful background material when researching a similar bill that does become law.
The primary reason a legislative history is conducted is usually as a means to interpret a statute, especially where the statutory language is vague or unclear. Legislative history is persuasive authority. It is never binding upon a court. A history conducted on the background of the statute provides insight into the meaning and intent of the legislative body that created the law. A history of the statute can help clarify the law and assist in determining how a statute applies to a specific situation.
Remember, too, that the legislative process is further modified by actions in other branches of the federal government. Through the Judicial branch, court decisions affect law, and through the Executive branch, agency rules and regulations both modify and/or generate law; both must be considered when doing a complete background on statues.
Conducting a legislative history is much like a treasure hunt. You begin with clues (popular names, bills, Public Law numbers, etc.) that lead you to other information. Do not expect to obtain all answers to your research from a single source. Be flexible. Be patient. Be diligent.
Good luck and happy hunting!
For information on how to cite government documents, use the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation: