U.S. Constitution & Federal Statutes

» Click here to access the U.S. Constitution

» Click here to access federal statutes 

Federal statutes (i.e., the laws passed by the U.S. Congress) are organized by subject matter in the U.S. Code. Often, federal laws are given or referred to by common names such as the "Civil Rights Act of 1968," the "USA PATRIOT Act" or the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." The Cornell Legal Information Institute offers this listing of federal laws by their popular names.

Before federal statutes are added to the U.S. Code, there are a handful of steps that must be taken. After a bill makes it way through the legislative process and it is to become law, the bill is forwarded to the Archivist of the United States for filing and publication. The Archivist assigns a public or private law number, depending on the type of legislation, and it is first officially printed as an individual pamphlet commonly known as a "slip law." Once a Congressional session ends, all of the legislation passed by that particular Congress is compiled and published chronologically as a bound volume of the U.S. Statutes at Large. In an effort to make these federal statutes more accessible, they are periodically reorganized by subject matter; this arrangement of federal statutes by subject matter results in the U.S. Code.

For a fuller explanation of how federal statutes are adopted, see "How Our Laws Are Made" on the Congress.gov website. For more legislative information, including filed bills, Congressional reports, and other relevant information, see Congress.gov (what was previously THOMAS.gov has since been retired). For official publications such as the U.S. Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code, try the Government Printing Office. For a legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution based on a review of Supreme Court case law written in "plain English," see the Constitution Annotated.

U.S. Statutes at Large & Session Laws

Before they are codified and arranged by subject matter in the U.S. Code, federal statutes are first published as "session laws." A statute's first official publication is as an individual pamphlet known as a "slip law." All of the statutes passed by a particular session of Congress are then compiled and published chronologically in a bound volume of the U.S. Statutes at Large, which is the collection of all statutes passed by the U.S. Congress. You can access digital copies of these session laws going back to the 104th Congress (1995-1996) online. For help locating copies of statutes that were enacted prior to 1995, please Ask a Librarian.

page last updated: 19 Jul 2023 5:00 PM