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Federal Legislative History: Finding the Public Law Number

Finding the Public Law Number

To retrieve a legislative history, you'll need to know the Public Law number for the statute's original enactment and/or any amendments you would like to research.

Access Your Statute in the U.S.C.

To get started, access the statute in any version of the United States Code. The official, government published U.S.C. is available in print and on HeinOnline. Lexis provides the unofficial U.S.C.S. and Westlaw provides the unofficial U.S.C.A. All will provide the same basic history information.

Usually, it's easiest to type the citation into the main Lexis or Westlaw search box, in the format 18 USC 711A. You can also browse to the statute in any of these versions:

Locate the History or Credits Section

Once you've accessed your statute, scroll down to locate a section listing Public Law (Pub. L. or P.L.) and Statutes at Large (Stat.) citations.

  • This section may be unlabeled or labeled History or Credit(s).
  • Older laws may have a chapter (c. or ch.) number instead of a Public Law number.

Identify the Relevant Public Law Number

  • If your statute has been amended, each amendment will be listed from first to last and separated by semi-colons.
  • You can find a summary of what each amendment did:
    •  After the list of amendments in the official code and on Lexis
    • Under Westlaw's History tab > Editor's and Revisor's Notes 
  • If the summary says the statute was "formerly classified" somewhere else, that means it's been moved to a new location. If you want to know what happened before the move, it's time to get more help.

A Simple Example on Westlaw

A Frequently Amended Example From Lexis

An Older, Re-classified Example in the Official Code