Congressional Information

Laws, Statutes and Codes

Public Laws

  • Once a bill has been passed and signed by the President it is assigned a Public Law (PL) number.  Though it was done differently in the past, since ? the information is assigned chronologically based on which congress it was signed under and the next number in line.  e.g. - PL 109-430 means the law is from the 109th Congress and was the 430th one to have been enacted.  Public laws affect society as a whole. These are also known as "slip laws." They can be cited as PL or Pub.L.  These slip laws are presented exactly as they will appear in the Statutes at Large and they contain the following information.
    • Public law number
    • Date of enactment
    • Bill number
    • Popular name of the law
    • Statutes at Large citation
    • U.S. Code citation
    • Legislative history

Private Laws

  • Private laws affect individuals, families or small groups. They are enacted to assist citizens that have been injured by government programs or who are appealing an executive agency ruling (e.g. deportation). These are also known as "slip laws." They can be cited as Pvt.L and also include the Congress number and the number of the law. Pvt.L. 100-75

Statutes at Large

  •  At the end of each Congress, the slip laws (public and private) are compiled into bound volumes known as the Statutes at Large. These "session laws" represent the chronological arrangement of the laws in the exact order they were enacted in.  They are usually cited as something like 100 Stat. 250 which translates to volume 100 of the Statutes, page 250.

U.S. Code (USC)

  • Because the Statutes at Large are in chronological order, they are not helpful for locating similar information. First published in 1926, the US Code is the codification by subject matter of the general and permenant law of the US.  The Code is divided into 51 titles and represents broad subject areas. The main editions of the Code are published every six years with annual cumulative supplements published in between to present the most current information.  See the Codes - US Code tab for more information.   

The information above comes from FDsys (GPO) site on Public and Private laws.

Finding Public Laws and Statutes

Public Laws can be found through these sites:

US Statutes at Large can be found through these sites:

Legislative Histories

Published legislative histories can be very helpful for tracking the history of legislation, especially if it took several Congresses to make it all the way through the process.  A legislative history tracks the history of a law from its initial introduction all the way through its enactment by Congress.  This includes the various versions along the way as well as the related debate, reports and testimony or hearings.

ProQuest Congressional [NPS ONLY] does a nice job of not only tracking but also linking to all the various pieces.