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United States Law

General Sources | Legislative History | Statutory Law | Case Law | Citations & Citators | Topical Law Information | Additional Sources

It is often useful and important to find out what the law is, but it is not always easy to do so. Fogler Library is not a law library, but it does contain materials to help you do certain kinds of legal research. Before beginning your search for information step back and consider what you really want to know. In the United States laws are established by many different institutions at many different levels. If you have questions regarding sales tax law in Maine, federal law will likely be irrelevant. This guide provides resources for federal law; if you need state law, use the Maine Law guide.

A good deal of legal research hinges on being able to identify who makes the law relevant to your question and who hears cases based on that law. Is the law federal, state, local, regional, or international? Is the law made by Congress, a regulatory body, a state legislature, local government, or an international agency? Which courts hear the relevant cases and appeal: federal, state, special judicial bodies, or international? This guide is restricted to information about law in the U.S.  Please contact us at Ask-a-Librarian with any questions.

general sources

legislative history

Legislative history traces the course of a bill through all its stages from introduction to passage. It is often necessary to know the legislative history of a law in order to understand the intent of the legislators. Look at How Our Laws Are Made for an overview of the process.

  • Congressional Record  - Gov Docs:Open X
    The transcripts of Congressional sessions, the cumulative indexes include a section called "History of Bills and Resolutions."

  • ProQuest Congressional - Includes legislative histories from 1970

  • FDSys  - Includes recent Congressional bills, hearings, reports, public laws, and the Congressional Record.

  • - Maintained by the Library of Congress, includes bill text from the 101st Congress. Also includes some access to the Congressional Record

  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980 - Contains all publications from the 15th through the 96th Congresses


statutory law

Statutory law includes 1) the laws passed by legislative bodies, and 2) administrative rules and regulations which, because of legislative acts, have force of law.

Legislative Acts

  • Slip Laws  - Gov Docs: AE 2.110
    The first published version of a law enacted by Congress. Each includes the legislative history of the law. Cited by Public Law number which includes the number of the Congress in which it was passed and its chronological number, i.e. P.L. 100-134.

  • U.S. Statutes at Large - Gov Docs: AE 2.111
    Laws passed by Congress by session, in chronological order. Cited by volume and page, i.e. 100 Stat 134.

  • ProQuest Congressional- can search for Public Laws by number or keyword; full-text from 1988

  • United States Code - Gov Docs Y 1.2/5; also searchable at LexisNexis>Legal>Federal & State Codes
    The official compilation of federal laws currently in force arranged by titles or subjects. Cited by title and section, i.e. 43 U.S.C. 2010.

  • United States Code Service - Ref KF 62 1972 .L38
    A privately published compilation of federal laws by title, comparable to the U.S. Code, but with some historical information. Cited by title and section, i.e. 43 U.S.C.S. 2010

Administrative Rules

  • Federal Register - Gov Docs:Open AE 2.106
    Daily listing of new and proposed regulations which have the force of law. Cited by volume and page, i.e. 54 FR 12463.

  • Code of Federal Regulations - Gov Docs:Open AE 2.106/3
    Annual cumulation of all regulations in force, grouped by subject. Cited by title and section, i.e. 50 CFR 611.95.

  • LexisNexis> US Legal> Statutes, Codes & Regulations - can search either the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations

  • - can find (& submit) comments on proposed regulations,as well as find final regulations


case law

Case law covers the decisions of the courts.  These decisions fix the interpretation of the law and establish precedent.


citations & Citators


A legal citation is a reference to a specific law or case.  The works below provide examples:

  • Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation - Ref Desk KF 245 .U54
    A complete explanation of the legal citation system.
  • Introduction to Basic Legal Citation - Created by Peter W. Martin, Cornell Law School.


Citators provide ways to trace related cases.  A decision may cite prior cases, or be cited in future cases, and citators allow these links to be followed.

  • Shepard's Acts & Cases by Popular Name: Federal & State - Ref KF 80 .S5; Gives official citations for cases and laws by their popular names
  • Shepard's Maine Citations - Spec Coll Maine KFM 59 .S53
    Tracks Maine Supreme Judicial Court decisions.
  • LexisNexis> US Legal> Shepards Citations - tracks U.S. court decisions, including decisions of Maine courts


topical law Information

  • Environmental Law in a Nutshell - Ref KF 3775 .F557

  • Intellectual Property & Unfair Competition in a Nutshell - Ref KF 1610 .M354

  • Internet Law in a Nutshell - Ref KF 390.5 .C6 R87

  • Labor Law in a Nutshell - Bus Ref KF 3369.3 .L39

  • National Indian Law Library

additional sources

To contact a Reference Librarian with questions, click here: Ask-a-Librarian

Created by: | Revised: 03/11/2014
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