J.W. Long Law Library


Federal Codes

How do you find current federal statutory law? 

You use the United States Code (U.S.C.), or United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) located on the third floor. The United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) is a third option, but we no longer subscribe to the print version.

The law in all three U.S. Codes is arranged by subject matter using identical numerical title and section numbers (parallel cites).  E.g., the law cited in Title 16 U.S.C. §839; 16 U.S.C.A. §839; and 16 U.S.C. S. §839 will read exactly the same in all three publications.  Differences between the codes are reflected not in the law, but in the editorial enhancements and timelines of publication.

As a matter of convenience, most lawyers use either U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. because these codes are "annotated" with legislative history and court opinions, have detailed annual indices and are kept current through the use of softbound pamphlets (pocket parts) located in the back covers of each volume and, if the legislature is in session, softbound pamphlets (advance sheets) located at the end of each set which update the pocket parts.  The United States Code (U.S.C.) is not annotated with court opinions, lacks a current consolidated index and has a cumbersome updating method.  All three sets have tables to convert Statute-at-Large (Stat.), Public Law (P.L.) and popular name citations to code citations.

If you are beginning your search with a citation to a Public Law number, such as P.L. 96-501 (96th Congress - law #501), or a citation to a Statute-at-Large such as 94 Stat. 2697 (Volume 94, page 2697), or the popular name of a law, such as the Northwest Power Act; use the tables at the end of the code index volumes to convert your citation or popular name to a code title and section number.

Otherwise, simply use the multi-volume annual indices to look up your topic by subject to find a code title and section number.

Online access to the U.S. Code is available through the Law Library home page.  Click on Federal Law.  Law students may also search the federal code using either Westlaw or Lexis.

Remember, once you have found your title and section number, you must check the relevant softbound pamphlet (pocket part) located in the back cover of your U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. volume and any softbound pamphlets (advance sheets) located at the end of the set updating the pocket part to determine if your law has been revised in some manner.

Postscript:  If you wish to read a federal law in its entirety as it was originally enacted and you have its popular name, Public Law number or Statute-at-Large citation:

  • With a U. S. Statute-at-Large citation, go directly to the cited volume and page of the U.S. Statutes-at-Large on the 3rd floor.
  • Alternatively:
    • determine the year the law was passed by consulting the U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. Index Tables.
    • find your law in the United Sates Code Congressional and Administrative News (U.S.C.C.A.N.) "Laws" volume for that year.  U.S.C.C.A.N. reprints the Statutes-at-Large and adds editorial enhancements including legislative history in the form of the relevant supporting House and/or Senate reports.  U.S.C.C.A.N. is located on the 3rd floor opposite the U.S. Codes.