Legal research materials are generally classified as being either one of two types of sources: primary or secondary. Primary sources are "the law" itself, which we are bound to follow. Secondary sources are materials about the law; they explain and help us to find "the law" in a given situation. Although secondary sources, sometimes called "persuasive authority," are very useful in legal research, and courts often consider them, no one is legally bound by them. An example of federal primary law is the United States Code. This multi-volume set contains the United States' statutes, codified (organized by subject) into 50 titles. An example of a secondary source is Nimmer on Copyright, a critical examination of copyright law. While Nimmer's analysis is highly regarded and often cited by courts, it is not "the law."
The purpose of this guide is to identify all of the federal primary law resources in the Law Library's collection.[*] Primary Law includes materials such as the Constitution, statutes, legislative documents, court opinions (cases), rules of court, administrative decisions, and regulations. The Law Library has the majority of these materials in print or online in WestlawNext or Hein OnLine, and provides access to many of them via the Internet. While WestlawNext and Hein OnLine [†] may only be used in the Law Library, the official source of federal law on the Internet, the Federal Digital System FDsys (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/) [‡], is freely accessible from almost anywhere.
S: Some access is available through an alternate title. Review that section for further details.
THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
Our Founding Fathers convened at what is now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia in May of 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation,[§] our first "constitution." After much disagreement and debate, it became clear that, rather than an amendment of the existing Articles, an entirely new structure of government would need to be created. All through that summer the delegates drafted and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution, which was formally signed on September 17, 1787.
During the debates on its adoption, opponents of the new Constitution repeatedly demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the limits of federal government power over the individual. In September 1789, the United States' First Congress therefore proposed twelve amendments. The first ten ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures now comprise the first ten amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
According to Article VI, Clause 2, the Supremacy Clause, the Constitution, U.S. Treaties, and laws made pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, shall be "the supreme law of the land."
The Constitution can be found in Volume 1 of any of the print versions of the United States Code (see USC below). In addition, there is an excellent book called The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 29, 1992, prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, behind the Reference Desk at KF 4527 .U54. Ask the Reference Librarian to see this volume.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on [United States Code Annotated]. Scroll down to the second heading: Constitution of the United States.
Hein OnLine: United States Code 2012 Edition, v.1 p. LXI
Next to the Constitution, treaties are the "supreme law of the land," and take precedence over statutes or any other law. Treaties to which the United States is a party are published by the Senate. "Senate Treaty Documents" can be found in the Congressional Documents collection on FDsys, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/ collection.action?collectionCode=CDOC ).
U.S. treaties are published in:
• Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America ("Bevans") (1776-1949)
• Treaty Series ("T.S. No.") (1778-1945)
• Senate Executive Documents (S. Exec. Doc.) (1778-1980)
• Statutes at Large (Stat.) (1778-1949)
• Executive Agreement Series (E.A.S. No.) (1929-1946)
• League of Nations Treaty Series (1922-1945)
• United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (U.S.T.) (1950-1984)
• TIAS Agreements (T.I.A.S.) (1982-present)
Hein Online's Treaties and Agreements Library contains PDF versions of the treaty sets listed above, as well as:
- Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols and Agreements ("Malloy") (1776-1937)
- Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America ("Miller") (1776-1863)
- Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties ("Kappler") (1902-1971)
- International Legal Materials (ILM) (1962-2011)
- KAV Agreements (KAV) (1987-2011)
and many more. As the Sacramento County Public Law Library is a California-focused, practice-oriented, library, we do not collect treaties in print; nor do we subscribe to any treaties available on WestlawNext.
Legislative History Documents
Black's Law Dictionary defines legislative history as "the background and events leading to the enactment of a statute, including hearings, committee reports, and floor debates."[**] Researchers review the documents produced in conjunction with the legislative history of a particular statute in hopes of finding something that will aid in interpreting that statute. For an excellent guide to conducting legislative history research, see Legislative History Research: A Basic Guide, published by the Congressional Research Service at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41865.pdf.
A bill is a legislative proposal before Congress. Bills from each house are assigned a number in the order in which they are introduced, starting at the beginning of each Congress. Bills introduced in the Senate are preceded by "S."; those in the House by "H.R." (e.g., S. 49, H.R. 56). A new Congress convenes every two years, in the January following a November congressional election. Congresses have been numbered consecutively since the first, beginning in 1789. Each Congress meets in two annual "sessions," the first in its first calendar year and the second in its second calendar year. Thus, the first session of the 113th Congress began in 2013, and the second will begin in 2014.
The Law Library does not actively collect federal bills in print, nor do we subscribe to the Congressional Bills database on WestlawNext.
Hein OnLine: HOL does not contain a "Bills" Library; however, the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library contains comprehensive federal legislative histories published by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and private publishers.
FDsys: FDsys contains all published versions of bills from the 103rd (1993-1994) Congress forward at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode =BILLS.
Congressional Record (Floor Debates)
Bills are introduced, debated, and voted on in each House of Congress. This is reported in the Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings of the United States Congress, published daily while Congress is in session. Beginning publication in 1873, the Congressional Record contains four sections, the Daily Digest (index & table of contents), a House section, a Senate section, and an Extension of Remarks section, which includes tributes, statements, and other information supplementing statements made on the Congressional floor. Pages are number sequentially in each section throughout the session of Congress, e.g., each Senate page begins with the letter S, "S1234;" each House page begins with the letter H, "H1234," etc. The Law library does not collect the Congressional Record in print, nor is it available through Hein Online.
WestlawNext: From the Home Page, on the tab [All Content] click on [Legislative History] then click on [Congressional Record]. Coverage begins with the First Session of the 99th Congress (1985).
FDsys: FDsys contains Congressional Record volumes from 140 (1994) to the present (vol. 158) at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CREC.
A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, oversee the activities of a government agency, or evaluate the implementation of a federal law. Hearings may also be purely exploratory, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest. Whether a hearing is published depends on the committee that held the hearing.
The Law Library does not collect congressional hearings in print, nor do we subscribe to any congressional hearings through Hein Online or WestlawNext.
FDsys: FDsys contains contain select House and Senate hearings for the 104th Congress (1995-96) forward at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action? collectionCode=CHRG.
Bills are usually referred to a committee (according to subject matter) after they are introduced. Committees often, in turn, refer the legislation to one of its subcommittees. Subcommittees may request reports from government departments, hold hearings, "markup" the bill (meet to propose changes), and "report" the bill back to the full committee. The full committee can do the same thing, with or without prior subcommittee consideration, and, by majority vote, "report" the legislation to its full chamber (i.e., the House or Senate).
When a committee reports a bill for consideration by the entire chamber, it often drafts a report on the legislation (the House requires a written report for this process; the Senate does not). These committee reports can be particularly useful in legislative history research because they often describe the purpose of the legislation and explain specific provisions. Committee reports are identified as House Report (H. Rep.) or Senate Report (S. Rep.) and assigned a number (e.g., S. Rep. 112-31 was the 31st report to the Senate in the 112th Congress).
Conference Committee Reports
When there are differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill, the two chambers may establish a conference committee to reach agreement on a common version. Upon reaching agreement, the conference committee usually issues a report (usually printed as a House Report). The conference report may discuss the differences between the House and Senate-passed language, the reasons certain provisions were chosen over others, and provide additional information on the purpose of the legislation. If passed by both chambers in identical form, the legislation is sent to the President. Conference committee reports are available in the same formats and sources as regular committee reports. They can also be found in the Congressional Record (see above).
The Law Library does not collect congressional reports in print (other than in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News, see USCCAN below).
Hein OnLine: HOL does not contain a "Committee Reports" Library; however, committee reports are included in the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library.
WestlawNext: From the Home Page, on the tab [All Content] click on [Legislative History] then click on [Legislative History – U.S. Code] for access to all congressional committee reports, including reports on bills that did not become law, beginning with 1990. This database also contains the legislative history documents reprinted in USCCAN from 1948 through 1989, and the presidential signing statements reprinted in USCCAN beginning with 1986.
FDsys: FDsys contains committee reports starting from the 104th Congress (1995-1996) at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CRPT.
Presidential Signing Statements
The President may approve a bill, veto it, or take no action. If the President signs a bill, he may issue a signing statement. If no action is taken, the legislation becomes law after ten days (excluding Sundays) unless Congress adjourns, in which case the bill does not become law (this is known as a "pocket veto"). If the President vetoes the legislation, Congress may override the veto with two-thirds of each chamber voting to do so. If Congress overrides the veto, the bill becomes law without the President's signature.
A controversy over the President's use of signing statements erupted during the administration of President George W. Bush, in which critics charged the unusually extensive statements modified the meaning of statutes. In July 2006, an American Bar Association task force declared that the use of signing statements to modify the meaning of duly enacted laws serves to "undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers."[††]
Presidential signing statements may be found in the Compilation of Presidential Documents, the official publication of presidential documents. They are also printed along with the bill in United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (see USCCAN below) since 1986.
The Law Library does not collect the Compilation of Presidential Documents in print, nor do we subscribe to it through WestlawNext. However, access to Presidential Signing Statements is available through alternate titles on WestlawNext. See Presidential Documents below.
FDsys: FDsys contains the Compilation of Presidential Documents from 1993 to present at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CPD.
Hein OnLine: HOL's U.S. Presidential Library includes the Weekly Compilation of the Presidential Documents (1965-2009), continued as the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (2009-curent).
Statutes at Large (Stat)
After the President signs a bill into law, it is assigned a law number, and prepared for publication in the Statutes at Large, the official publication of the law. These are often called "Slip Laws." Laws cited to in the Statutes at Large will have a volume number, the abbreviation "Stat.," and the page number upon which the law begins, e.g., "105 Stat. 603." Statutes passed prior to 1957 are identified by their Statutes at Large citation.
Since 1957, Acts of Congress related to the general public have been designated in the form "Public Law X-Y," where X is the number of Congress and Y is the chronological number of that public Act in that Congress.[‡‡] The Law Library does not collect the Statutes at Large in print.
Hein OnLine: the U.S. Statutes at Large Library contains vol. 1 (1789-1845) through vol. 123 (2009).
FDsys: FDsys contains the Statutes at Large from 104th Congress (1995 - 1996) to the present 113th Congress (2013 - 2014) at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection. action?collectionCode=PLAW
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on [Federal Proposed & Enacted Legislation]. Click on the first heading: U.S. Public Laws, for Public Law passed during the current session of Congress. Click on [Historical Enacted Legislation (Session Laws)] under the TOOLS & RESOURCES list on the right, then click on [U.S. Public Laws – Historical] under [Federal] for Public Laws enacted during previous terms of Congress, beginning with the first session of the 93rd Congress in 1973.
U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN)
USCANN, a commercial service published by West, reprints the full text of new public laws and the major committee and conference reports for most public laws since 1941, the 1st Session of the 77th Congress.
First published monthly in soft-bound pamphlets, USCCAN contains a cumulative subject index and a cumulative Table of Laws Enacted in addition to the new public laws and selected relevant documents. The pamphlets are reissued into bound volumes after each session of Congress ends. In addition to federal laws and select committee reports, USCCAN publishes presidential proclamations, executive orders, President's messages, federal regulations, proposed constitutional amendments, federal court rules, and sentencing guidelines, all arranged in chronological order.
When published in bound volumes, the legislative history documents are placed in separate volumes from the rest of the materials. Prior to the 99th Congress, the legislative history materials in USCCAN contained only a House or Senate report. Since the 99th Congress (1985–86), the legislative history materials in USCCAN have included the House or Senate report, the committee report, and any presidential signing statements.
USCCAN is located at KF 48 .W45 (Compact) (1941-present).
Hein OnLine: does not contain a USCCAN Library, as it is a rival vendor's product. Access to the Public Laws, however, is available through the US Statutes at Large Library above.
FDYsys: See Statutes at Large for the Government Printing Office's (GPO) compilation of public laws.
WestlawNext: the Law Library does not subscribe to the full text of USCCAN, however, we do provide access to three related databases: Legislative History Table, which contains legislative history tables as printed in USCCAN beginning with the 106th Congress (2000); Members of the Executive & Congressional Branches, which contains the names of members of the executive and congressional branches of government, including members of the standing, select, and special congressional committees as listed in USCCAN beginning with the 106th Congress (2000); and Session Highlights, which contains highlights of congressional sessions as published in update supplements to USCCAN beginning with the 106th Congress (2000).
United States Code (USC)
The United States Code (USC) is the codification by subject of the laws of the United States. It is divided by broad subjects into 51 titles (the 51st and newest, "National and Commercial Space Programs," was enacted December 18, 2010) and published by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. The United States Code is published every six years (the last edition was published in 2012), and five annual cumulative supplements (designated as Supplements I through V) are printed in intervening years.
Of the 51 titles, 25 have been enacted into positive law.[§§] When a title of the Code is enacted into positive law, the text of the title becomes legal evidence of that law.[***] Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie (a Latin expression meaning "at first appearance") evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large (see above) still govern.
The officially-published United States Code does not contain annotations (research references and editorial analysis by the publishers). For that reason, and because of its lack of currency (as of the date this Guide was created, the 2012 edition, from the 112th Congress ending January 2, 2013, is the most recent edition), most researchers use the annotated versions created by commercial publishers, even though citation to the official United States Code is required by most legal style guides and court rules.
The current United States Code is located at Y 1:2/5:2012 (US Documents).
Hein OnLine: the United States Code Library contains the 1925 to 2012 editions of the USC, including Supplements.
WestlawNext: does not carry the United States Code as published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).
FDsys: FDsys contains virtual main editions of the U.S. Code, back to the 1994 edition, at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collectionUScode.action?collectionCode=USCODE.
United States Code Annotated (USCA)
USCA is the annotated (includes research references and editorial analysis) version of the United States Code published by West. In general, the language of each section of a statute is followed by "Historical Notes" indicating which public law created the code section and which have amended it over time, if any. Following that is a section of "Library References," which contains leads for further research, such as citations to secondary sources like law review articles, treatises, and legal encyclopedia articles (likely to be published by West), finding aids such as digest topics and key numbers (published solely by West), and references to relevant Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) sections. Finally, the "Notes of Decisions" section contains very brief summaries of cases discussing the code section, followed by a citation to the case. These brief summaries of cases are commonly called "annotations."
In general, West's publishing philosophy, which applies to all of its publications, including secondary sources like the legal encyclopedia Corpus Juris Secondum (CJS), is to be comprehensive. For example, almost every case that cites to a particular code section will be included in the Notes of Decisions section of USCA, and the footnote corroborating a legal proposition in CJS will include a case from each of the 50 states.
The Law Library does not subscribe to the USCA, nor is there a USCA "Library" on Hein Online. FDsys contains only the official government version of the United States Code.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on the second link, [United States Code Annotated (USCA)]. Click on [USCA Historical] under the TOOLS & RESOURCES list on the right to access editions back to 1990.
United States Code Service (USCS)
USCS is the annotated version of the United States Code published by Lexis. It is identical in arrangement to the USCA. Although there will be some overlap, the references to other publications for further research, relevant CFR sections, and case annotations may be different, since they are selected and written by different editors. In addition, the secondary sources are more likely to be published by Lexis than West.
In general, Lexis' publishing philosophy, which applies to all of its publications, including secondary sources like the legal encyclopedia American Jurisprudence (Am Jur), is to be selective. For example, only the most important cases, as determined by the USCS editors, are included in the Notes of Decisions section of USCS, and the footnotes corroborating a legal proposition in Am Jur include only the most important relevant cases, again as determined by USCS editors.
USCS is located at KF 62 .L38 (Compact).
Neither Hein Online, WestlawNext, nor FDsys carry the USCS.
Federal Register (FR)
Created in 1935 under the Federal Register Act (44 U.S.C. §§1505 et seq.), and enlarged and expanded under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 500 et seq.), the Federal Register is the official government publication for rules (regulations), proposed rules, and notices of federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents. Published by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Federal Register is updated daily and is published Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.
The Proposed Rules section of the Federal Register contains notices to the public of the proposed issuance of rules and regulations. This section includes advance notices of proposed rulemaking, which describe a problem or situation and the anticipated regulatory action of the agency and seek public response concerning the necessity for regulation and the adequacy of the agency's anticipated regulatory action. Additionally, many agencies voluntarily publish proposed changes to procedural rules, interpretative rules and agency policies to gather public comments. These notices give interested persons an opportunity to participate in rule making prior to the adoption of final rules.
Many proposed rules are documents that suggest changes to current agency regulations and request public comment on those suggested changes. This section also contains documents relating to previously published proposed rules, extending the comment period, announcing a public hearing, making available supplemental information, withdrawing a proposed rule, or correcting a previously published proposed rule. Each document begins with a heading that includes the name of the issuing agency (and subagency if appropriate), the Code of Federal Regulations title and part(s) affected, and a brief description of the specific subject of the document. Instructions for filing comments and the date by which comments must be filed are provided.
The Law Library does not carry the Federal Register in print.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on [Federal Register] for full text coverage beginning January, 1981 and documents with citation, name of document, agency, summary information, and pdf images representing pages of the Federal Register corresponding to each document beginning March, 1936 through December, 1980. [Note: 40 FR 13280 - 13995 not available at this time.]
Hein OnLine: the Federal Register Library contains vol. 1 (1936) through vol. 77 (2012).
FDsys: FDsys contains Federal Register volumes from 59 (1994) to the present, at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR .
Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that correspond roughly to the titles in the United States Code. The CFR is updated once each calendar year, on a staggered basis: titles 1-16 on January 1; titles 17-27 on April 1; titles 28-41 on July 1, and titles 42-50 on October 1.
Each title is divided into chapters, which usually bear the name of the issuing agency. Each chapter is further subdivided into parts that cover specific regulatory areas. Large parts may be subdivided into subparts. All parts are organized in sections, and most citations to the CFR refer to material at the section level, e.g. "21 CFR 310.502 (1997)." In this citation, the title is the numeric value to the left of "CFR," and the part is the numeric value to the right of "CFR" and preceding the period ("."). The subpart is the numeric value to the right of the period ("."). You may often see a subpart identified by a letter of the alphabet, e.g. "Subpart E." "1997" is the year the text of the section was revised, and appears on the spine of the volume.
"[Reserved]" is a term used as a place holder within the CFR. An agency uses "[Reserved]" to simply indicate that it may insert regulatory information into this location at some time in the future. Occasionally "[Reserved]" is used to indicate that a portion of the CFR was intentionally left empty and not accidentally dropped due to a printing or computer error.
Due to the update schedule of the CFR, the List of Sections Affected (LSA) provides a cumulative list of CFR sections that have been changed at any time since each CFR title was last updated.
The Law Library has the current version of the CFR, located at KF 70 .A3 (Compact).
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on [Code of Federal Regulations-CFR] for the current CFR. Click on [CFR Historical] under the TOOLS & RESOURCES list on the right, to access editions back to 1984. [Note: Title 3, Annual Compilations of Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents, is not included in the WestlawNext Code of Federal Regulations database. See Presidential Documents below.]
Hein OnLine: The Code of Federal Regulations Library contains the 1938 edition through the 2012 edition.
FDsys: contains editions from 1996 to the present at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collectionCfr.action?collectionCode=CFR.
Executive Orders are signed documents, numbered consecutively, through which the President of the United States manages the operations of the federal government.
Proclamations are signed documents, numbered consecutively, through which the President of the United States communicates information on holidays, commemorations, special observances, and trade.
Administrative orders are unnumbered signed documents through which the President of the United States conducts the administrative operations of the federal government. Administrative orders include, but are not limited, to memoranda, notices, determinations, letters, and messages.
All of these documents can be found in the Federal Register, the Compilation of Presidential Documents, Presidential Signing Statements and Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations, all discussed above.
WestlawNext: From the tab [All Content] click on [Administrative Decisions & Guidance]. Click on [Federal Administrative Decisions & Guidance], then click on [Executive Office of the President], which contains:
Daily Presidential Documents
Text of press conferences, speeches, schedules and formal announcements by the President and White House staff. Coverage begins with January 1993.
Executive and administrative orders, proclamations, trade agreement letters, and other documents released by the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Coverage of executive orders begins with 1936; coverage of all other documents begins with 1984.
ADMINISTRATIVE (AGENCY) DECISIONS
In addition to promulgating regulations, many federal agencies serve in a quasi-judicial function, investigating disputed claims, holding hearings, ascertaining facts, weighing evidence, making conclusions from the facts as a basis for their official action, and exercising discretion of a judicial nature to reach a binding decision. A dissatisfied litigant may file a petition for review of an agency decision by a Court of Appeals (or, in some cases, for example, Social Security, in a District Court rather than a Court of Appeals).
Most recent agency decisions can be found on the agency's website. A directory of federal agency web sites, a partnership of Louisiana State University and the Federal Depository Library Program, hosted by the University at http://www.lib.lsu.edu/gov/index .html, is accessible via FDsys. Otherwise, FDsys does not carry agency decisions. Nor does Hein Online.
The Law Library does not actively subscribe to any official federal agency decisions in print. The text or a digest of agency rulings may be found in treatises on the subject area, however, e.g., West's Social Security Reporting Service, KF 3641 .5 .A1 S6 (Compact), contains Social Security Rulings from 1995 to present, and the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, KF 6280.C6 C4 (Compact), contains recent IRS Rulings.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then [Federal Administrative Decisions & Guidance]. There you will find a list of both Executive Branch agencies and offices as well as independent agencies and offices, including:
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Department of Commerce
Department of Defense
Department of Education
Department of Energy
Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)
Department of Justice (DOJ)
Department of Labor (DOL)
Department of the Interior
Department of State
Department of the Treasury
Department of Transportation
Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA)
Executive Office of the President
Board of Contract Appeals (BCA)
Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)
Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Contract Adjustment Board (CAB)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Farm Credit Administration (FCA)
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
Federal Government Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB)
Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)
Federal Maritime Commission
Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission (FMSHRC)
Federal Reserve Board
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Foreign Service Grievance Board
Government Accountability Office (GAO)
International Trade Commission (ITC)
Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)
National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
National Mediation Board Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission (OSHRC)
Office of Financial Institution Adjudication (OFIA)
Office of Government Ethics (OGE)
Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)
Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Social Security Administration (SSA)
Click on the Agency you are interested in to search its decisions. Coverage of decisions varies for each agency. A statement of coverage is provided at the top of the page for each agency's decisions database.
Court rules prescribe procedures for practice in the courts. They dictate such matters as how to file a law suit, what evidence is admissible at trial, and grounds for appeal. There are rules of general applicability, which apply in all of the federal courts at a given level (e.g., the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply in all U.S. District Courts; the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure apply in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal), and local rules that apply only in the individual courts which have adopted them (e.g., the Local Rules of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California).
The United States Supreme Court derives the authority to create federal court rules of general applicability from the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2071-2077, and exercises this authority in cooperation with the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Judicial Conference's Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure has five advisory committees (Appellate, Bankruptcy, Civil, Criminal, and Evidence) that make recommendations for rule changes to the Standing Committee. Amendments approved by the Judicial Conference at its September annual meeting are transmitted to the Supreme Court, which must approve and transmit the proposed amendments to Congress by May 1 of that year. If Congress does not pass legislation to reject, modify, or defer the rules, they take effect on December 1.
The Federal Judiciary's Rulemaking Website www.uscourts.gov/RulesAndPolicies.aspx, contains the current rules of general applicability, along with pending rules amendments, proposed amendments published for public comment, records and archives of the rules committees, and a description of the rule-making process.
Each Court adopts its own local rules, which can usually be found on the Court's website, e.g., http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/uploads/rules/frap.pdf contains the Ninth Circuit Rules for the Court of Appeals.
Neither FDsys nor Hein Online contain federal court rules.
The Law Library has:
California Rules of Court: Federal Bankruptcy Courts, KFC 992 .A33 (Reference Desk)
California Rules of Court: Federal District Courts, KFC 992 .A32 (Reference Desk)
Federal Local Court Rules, KF 8820 .A2
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, with Forms, Y 4.J 89/1-10 (US Documents)
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: Rules and Commentary, KF 8840 .C65
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Y 4.J 89/1-12 (US Documents)
Federal Rules of Evidence, Y 4.J 89 (US Documents)
Federal rules can also be found in the Rules Volumes following Title 51 of the USCS (KF 62 .L38).
WestlawNext: From the default [All Content] tab, click on [Statutes & Court Rules]. Under the first heading, "Federal," you will find current versions of the:
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
Federal Rules of Evidence
CASES (COURT OPINIONS)
Federal courts are required by statute (28 U.S.C §411) and court rule (United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Rules 36.1; 36.2) to publish their decisions. Cases are published in "reporters," a series of volumes in which cases appear roughly in the order in which they were decided. A reporter may carry the cases of a single court or of several related courts. Case citations generally include the last names of the first-named parties, the volume number of the reporter in which the case can be found, an abbreviation for the reporter in which the case can be found, the page number upon which the case begins, and the year the case was decided. For example, Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1803, can be found in volume 5 of the United States Reports beginning on page 137. If the court that decided the case cannot be determined from the reporter abbreviation, that information is included in the parenthetical with the year. For example, only United States Supreme Court decisions appear in the United States Reporter (abbreviated "U.S."), but because the Federal Reporter contains decisions from all thirteen federal appellate courts, the case of Perry v. Brown, decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012 and appearing on page 1052 of volume 671 of the Federal Reporter, Third Series (abbreviated "F.3d"), is cited as Perry v. Brown, 671 F.3d 1052 (9th Cir. 2012).
United States Supreme Court
When Congress first met on March 4, 1789, one of the first items of business was to fulfill the requirements of Article III, section 1, of the Constitution, which provides that the "judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." The First Congress responded by enacting the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established thirteen district courts in major cities, three circuit courts, and a Supreme Court comprised of a Chief Justice and five Associate Justices.
Today the United States Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. At its discretion, and within certain guidelines established by Congress, the Supreme Court hears only a limited number of the cases it is asked to decide each year. Those cases may begin in the federal or state courts, and they usually involve important questions about the Constitution or federal law. All federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; that is, they can only hear cases that Congress has decided they can hear, e.g., between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy is over $75,000 (28 U.S.C. 1332) (called "diversity jurisdiction") or where a question arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States (28 USC 1331) (called "federal question jurisdiction").
United States Supreme Court decisions are currently published in three main reporters: the United States Reports (abbreviated U.S.), the Supreme Court Reporter (abbreviated S.Ct.), and the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition (abbreviated L.Ed.). Often two, or even all three, citations are listed, e.g., Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803).[†††] The additional citations are called parallel citations.
United States Reports (U.S.)
All United States Supreme Court opinions are published. The United States Reports is the official government publication of Supreme Court opinions. Published by Government Printing Office (GPO), "slip" (unbound) opinions appear about eight months from date of decision; "advance sheets" (temporary soft-bound volumes) about two years from date of decision; and permanent, bound volumes about two years after the advance sheets. In addition to the text of the opinion(s) the United States Reports contains a synopsis of the case written by the official Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337, 26 S.Ct. 282, 50 L.Ed. 499 (1906).
Until the late 19th Century there was no such thing as an "official" reporter in the United States; indeed, the first 90 volumes (1790-1874) of the United States Reports were originally published as "nominative" reporters, named after the person who compiled or published the reports: Dallas, Cranch, Peters, Howard, Black, and Wallace. Dallas' first volume (1 Dall.) also contained Pennsylvania state cases. The United States Reports began publication in 1875; the GPO later republished all the nominative reporters and incorporated them into the United States Reports. These early United States Reports volumes are often cited with the nominative reporter volume included, e.g., "Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)."
The Law Library does not collect the United States Reports in print. Nor are the United States Reports available on WestlawNext.
Hein Online: The U.S. Supreme Court Library contains volumes 1 through 552 (1754-2008) of the United States Reports, volumes 535 through 557 (2002-2009) of the Preliminary Prints (advance sheets), and Slip Opinions from 2002 to the present.
FDsys: The GPO provides access to volumes 502 et seq., including all of the opinions, orders, and other materials issued for the Court's 1991 Term and subsequent years at http://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/gpo11797. The Supreme Court Slip Opinions are also available at http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS35288.
Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.)
The Supreme Court Reporter is published by West. The Supreme Court Reporter is very current; advance sheets may be as current as two weeks. In addition to the text of the opinions, each volume of the Supreme Court Reporter contains tables of cases reported and statutes construed and a table of words and phrases judicially defined. In addition to the synopsis written by the Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions, each case in the Supreme Court Reporter has a synopsis and headnote(s) written by a West attorney-editor, with subject access to the headnotes provided in the U.S. Supreme Court Digest. See "Locating Cases with a West Digest," available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/locate-case-west-digest.aspx, for more information on the U.S. Supreme Court Digest.
The Law Library has the Supreme Court Reporter in print at KF 101 .W47 (Compact).
The Supreme Court Reporter is not available on FDsys or in HeinOnline.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials], then click on [Federal Cases]; the first link under Federal Cases by Court is to United States Supreme Court Cases. You may browse the ten most recent documents or use search box above. Coverage begins with 1790.
United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition (L.Ed.)
The United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition began in 1958 and is now published by Lexis editors. The currency of the print Lawyers' Edition is comparable to West's Supreme Court Reporter. In addition to the text of the opinions and synopsis written by the Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions, each reported case includes the briefs of counsel, and contains a unique syllabus and headnotes written by Lexis editors, in addition to cross-references to subjects in other Lawyers Co-op publications, such as the Annotations in American Law Reports. See "Secondary Sources," available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/secondary-sources.aspx, for more information on the American Law Reports.
The Law Library does not subscribe to the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition, nor is it available on FDsys, Hein Online, or WestlawNext. The California State Library, located several blocks away from the Sacramento County Public Law Library at 900 N Street, does hold this title.
United States Courts of Appeal
There are thirteen United States Courts of Appeal. The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into twelve regional circuits, each of which has a United States Court of Appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.
Only about 20% of all United States Court of Appeals opinions are published. Each court has its own rule setting forth criteria for publishing its opinions. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' Criteria for Publication Rule 36-2, which is fairly typical, states:
A written, reasoned disposition shall be designated as an OPINION if it:
(a) Establishes, alters, modifies or clarifies a rule of federal law, or
(b) Calls attention to a rule of law that appears to have been generally overlooked, or
(c) Criticizes existing law, or
(d) Involves a legal or factual issue of unique interest or substantial public importance, or
(e) Is a disposition of a case in which there is a published opinion by a lower court or administrative agency, unless the panel determines that publication is unnecessary for clarifying the panel's disposition of the case, or
(f) Is a disposition of a case following a reversal or remand by the United States Supreme Court, or
(g) Is accompanied by a separate concurring or dissenting expression, and the author of such separate expression requests publication of the disposition of the Court and the separate expression. [‡‡‡]
Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, F.3d)
There is no "official" publisher of United States Courts of Appeal opinions. West, however, publishes the Federal Reporter, now in its Third Series (999 volumes comprise each series) which contains opinions from all of the United States Courts of Appeal.
Just because an opinion is published in the Federal Reporter or any other publication, however, does not mean that the opinion is "officially" published and can be cited as precedent. Each Court of Appeals has its own rule setting forth criteria for the citation of cases. Prior to 2003, those rules varied, some allowing citation to "unpublished" opinions, and others prohibiting it. In an attempt to encourage conformity among the appellate circuits, the United States Supreme Court adopted Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1, Citing Judicial Dispositions (added Apr. 12, 2006, eff. Dec. 1, 2006), which provides:
(a) Citation Permitted. A court may not prohibit or restrict the citation of federal judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been:
(i) designated as ''unpublished,'' ''not for publication,'' ''nonprecedential,'' ''not precedent,'' or the like; and (ii) issued on or after January 1, 2007.
(b) Copies Required. If a party cites a federal judicial opinion, order, judgment, or other written disposition that is not available in a publicly accessible electronic database, the party must file and serve a copy of that opinion, order, judgment, or disposition with the brief or other paper in which it is cited.
Ten of the thirteen federal courts of appeal, the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Tenth, Eleventh, and the D.C. Circuits, now allow citation to "unpublished" opinions. Those still forbidding citation are the Seventh, Ninth, and Federal Circuits.[§§§] The Ninth Circuit Citation of Unpublished Dispositions or Orders Rule 36-3, for example, provides:
(a) Not Precedent. Unpublished dispositions and orders of this Court are not precedent, except when relevant under the doctrine of law of the case or rules of claim preclusion or issue preclusion.
(b) Citation of Unpublished Dispositions and Orders Issued on or after January 1, 2007. Unpublished dispositions and orders of this Court issued on or after January 1, 2007 may be cited to the courts of this circuit in accordance with FRAP 32.1.
(c) Citation of Unpublished Dispositions and Orders Issued before January 1, 2007. Unpublished dispositions and orders of this Court issued before January 1, 2007 may not be cited to the courts of this circuit, except in the following circumstances.
(i) They may be cited to this Court or to or by any other court in this circuit when relevant under the doctrine of law of the case or rules of claim preclusion or issue preclusion. (ii) They may be cited to this Court or by any other courts in this circuit for factual purposes, such as to show double jeopardy, sanctionable conduct, notice, entitlement to attorneys' fees, or the existence of a related case.
(iii) They may be cited to this Court in a request to publish a disposition or order made pursuant to Circuit Rule 36-4, or in a petition for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc, in order to demonstrate the existence of a conflict among opinions, dispositions, or orders.
The Law Library has the Federal Reporter at KF 105 .F45 (3rd series), KF 105 .F44 (2nd series), and KF 105 .F43 (1st series), all in Compact Shelving.
The Federal Reporter is not available on Hein Online or FDsys.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials]. There are links for each of the thirteen courts of appeal on the subsequent page, click on the one you are interested in to begin your research. You may browse the ten most recent documents or use search box above. Coverage varies.
United States District Courts (Trial Courts)
Federal Supplement (F.Supp., F. Supp. 2d)
There is no "official" publisher of United States trial court opinions. West, however, publishes the Federal Supplement, now in its Second Series, which contains approximately 10% of all of the 94 United States District Courts' opinions.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California's Local Rule 133(i)(3) on Unreported, Uncodified Citations, provides:
(i) General Requirement. If case, statutory, or regulatory authority is relied upon that has not been reported, published or codified in any of the foregoing references, and that is not available through Westlaw/Lexis, a copy of that authority shall be appended to the brief or other document in which the authority is cited . . . .
(ii) Incarcerated Pro Se Parties. In any action wherein a party is incarcerated and
appearing pro se, that party shall be served with a paper copy of the case, statutory, or regulatory authority cited by the filing party that has not been reported as set forth in (i) and (ii) above, regardless of its availability in Westlaw/Lexis . . . No copy of the authority available in Westlaw/Lexis shall be filed with the court.
The Law Library has the Federal Supplement at KF 105.2 .F42 (1st series) and KF 105 .2 .F421 (2d series), both in Compact Shelving. The Federal Supplement is not available on Hein Online or FDsys.
WestlawNext: Click on the tab [Federal Materials]; then click on [Federal Cases], then [Federal District Courts]. You may then choose [Federal District Courts by State] or [Federal District Courts by Territory]. Cases are not available to the District Court level. Coverage varies.
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS GUIDE, OR IF YOU NEED HELP FINDING OR USING THE MATERIALS LISTED, DON'T HESITATE TO ASK A REFERENCE LIBRARIAN.
updated 11/2013 jc
* As the Sacramento County Public Law Library is a California-focused, practice-oriented library, our selection of federal primary material in print is minimal. The bulk of our federal primary law collection is available electronically through subscription databases, accessible in the Library only. California primary law resources in the Law Library are identified in a Legal Research Guide on the topic on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/cal-prim-law.aspx.
† Hein Online's scanned pages of original material is arranged in "Libraries," therefore citations to sources in this subscription database shall appear as citations to print material in this Guide, e.g., "United States Code 2012 Edition, v.1 p. LXI." Start by selecting the appropriate Library, then drill down to the smallest element in the citation.
‡ FDsys provides authentic, digitally signed PDF files of Federal Government publications.
§ The Articles of Confederation, as well as the Declaration of Independence, can be found in Volume 1 of the United States Code.
‡‡ Public laws affect society as a whole, while private laws affect an individual, family, or small group.
Acts relating to individuals are analogously given Private Law X-Y designations.
§§ These titles are 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, and 51.
*** Positive law codification is the process of preparing and enacting, one title at a time, a revision and restatement of the statutes of the United States. Because many U.S. statutes are inconsistent, redundant, or obsolete, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives has been authorized to revise and codify, for enactment into positive law, each title of the Code. When its project is complete, all the titles of the Code will be legal evidence of the law and recourse to the Statutes at Large for this purpose will no longer be necessary. Positive law codification bills prepared by the Office do not change the meaning or legal effect of a statute being revised and restated. Rather, the purpose is to remove ambiguities, contradictions, and other imperfections from the law.
††† Marbury v. Madison does not appear in the Supreme Court Reporter because the Supreme Court Reporter did not begin publication until 1883. Marbury v. Madison does appear in WestlawNext, however, at 1803 WL 893 (U.S.Dist.Col.).
‡‡‡ Rules 36-4 and 36-5 allow for requests for publication by the public and orders for publication by a majority of the judges, respectively.