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Federal Statutes: What They Are and Where to Find Them

This report provides a brief overview of federal statutes and where to find them, both in print and on the Internet.

When Congress passes a law, it may amend or repeal earlier enactments or it may write on a clean slate. Newly enacted laws are published chronologically, first as separate statutes in "slip law" form and later cumulatively in a series of volumes known as the Statutes at Large. Statutes are numbered by order of enactment either as public laws or, far less frequently, private laws, depending on their scope.

Most statutes are incorporated into the United States Code. The United States Code and its commercial counterparts arrange federal statutes, that are of a general and permanent nature, by subject into titles. As the statutes that underlie the Code are revised, superseded, or repealed, the provisions of the Code are updated to reflect these changes.

The slip law versions of public laws are available in official print form from the Government Printing Office. Federal Depository Libraries (e.g., university and state libraries) provide slip laws in print and/or microfiche format. The Statutes at Large series often is available at large libraries. The United States Code and its commercial counterparts are usually available at local libraries. In addition, statutes and the United States Code can be found on the Internet.

Many significant statutes (for example, the Social Security Act and the Clean Air Act) are published and updated both in the public law, as amended, version and in the United States Code. For some titles the public law, as amended, is the authoritative version of the statute and not the Code. In these instances, an asterisk will not appear next to the title in the Code. After providing an overview on the basics of federal statutes, this report gives guidance on where federal statutes, in their various forms, may be located on the Internet.

Click here to download a copy of this Congressional Research Report.

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