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Legislative History

Introduction to Guide

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.

Both the Government Documents and Law Library at the U-M Ann Arbor are member of the Federal Depository Library Program, but the Thompson Library is not.

This Guide is intended for use by University of Michigan-Flint students and employees. Users of this Guide outside of UM-Flint may not be able to access many of the subscription service links provided which by license are restricted access databases.

What Is a Legislative History and Why Do It?

A legislative history refers in general to the documentation created during the (Congressional) legislative process, from the introduction of a bill into either the House or Senate, 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. The history of a statute can help clarify the law and assist in determining how a statute applies to a specific situation. 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.

Remember, too, that the the effect of legislation is modified by actions in other branches of the federal government. Through the Judicial branch, court decisions affect law and how it is applied, and through the Executive branch, agency rules and regulations can both influence the implementation of statutory law and generate regulatory law. The actions of both of those branches of the government must be considered when doing a complete background of statutes.

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!

Citing Government Documents

For information on how to cite government documents, use the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation:

  • A print copy of the Bluebook is available at the Reference Desk (3rd floor, entrance) of the Thompson Library, UM-Flint.

Online Assistance: