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Finding Federal Statutes, Regulations, and Related Cases

Using Articles and Books

If you do not already have a code citation or the name of an act, it is recommended that you use books and articles to find references to statutes related to your topic. Consult the USC Law Library guides Starting Points to Begin Your Legal Research and How to Find Law Journal Articles for guidance on finding books and articles that may help you in this regard.

If you are unable to find what you are looking for through books and articles, there are some additional searching tools that you can use to look for code sections on your topic.

Using Print Codes

At the end of all three print versions of the federal code is a subject index that you can use to find code sections by topic. The index to the U.S.C.A. set is contained in a series of softbound volumes and is called the "General Index." When using the indexes, think creatively since your topic may not be listed under the first term(s) you think of.

Usually, when you look up a term in the index, there will be subheadings under the main heading that narrow the topic down. Sometimes, there will also be cross-references to direct you to the appropriate terms to look up. If you find your topic in the index, it will tell you which title(s) and section(s) to look up in the main part of the set.

Using LexisNexis Academic

The Federal Statutes, Codes & Regulations search page on LexisNexis Academic (in the US Legal folder) allows you to enter your keyword(s) in the search boxes at the top of the screen. Make sure the "Annotated U.S. Code (USCS)" source is chosen in the Select Source(s) box.

The search page allows you to combine your search terms in various ways and limit your search or components of your search to particular segments of the statutes (e.g., heading or citation segments).  Within a search box, you can connect your terms with “and” (to specify that both terms must appear in each section) or with “or” (to specify that at least one of the terms must appear in each section).  If you type in two or more words without a connector (e.g., classroom accommodation), LexisNexis Academic will retrieve only statutes containing that exact phrase.  You can also truncate terms with an exclamation mark (!) to pull up different versions of a particular word (e.g., accommodat! will search for accommodate, accommodating, accommodated, accommodation, etc.).

Above is a LexisNexis Academic screen shot that shows how you might enter your search terms if you were looking for statutes about age discrimination in employment. This search will look for code sections in which either the word employment or job appears within the same sentence as the phrase age discrimination.  Notice from this screen shot that you can add additional rows to add more elements to your search. 

When you obtain your search results, you have the option of sorting your sections by relevancy, which will take into account how frequently your terms are mentioned.

You can click on the question mark icon to the right of the search boxes, below the red “Search” button, to learn more about searching in LexisNexis Academic.

Using Publicly Accessible Web Sites

All three of the publicly accessible federal code websites discussed in this guide allow you to conduct a keyword search of the federal code to find relevant code sections. On both the Cornell and the House of Representatives websites, you can use the AND and OR connectors to link your terms.

Example:

discriminate AND age

This search will look for code sections in which both the word age and a form of the word discriminate (discriminate, discriminates, discrimination, or discriminating) appear.

Also, the House of Representatives' site allows you to use the proximity connector NEAR/# to specify that your terms need to be within a certain distance of each other in each document.

Example:

age NEAR/5 discrimination

This search will look for code sections in which the word age appears within 5 words of discrimination.

Place single quotes around exact phrases on the House of Representatives' site (e.g., 'age discrimination') and double quotes around phrases on the Cornell site (e.g., "age discrimination"). For additional information on using connectors and special symbols on the House of Representatives' site, click on the "boolean and proximity connectors" link near the top of the search page.

To conduct a keyword search on govinfo.com, select “Advanced Search”.  Then select United States Code. Type your search terms into the search box. Within the search box, you can use AND, OR, and other connectors to clarify the relationship between your search terms. You can also retrieve different forms of a word by using the asterisk. For example, if you want to search for some form of the word discriminate within 20 words of the word race, you would enter the following search:

discriminat* near/20 race

You may broaden the search by allowing the word sex in place of the word race:

discriminat* near/20 (race OR sex)

If you want to specify that the term race or sex should be within 20 words before the term discrimination, use the connector before/#:

       (race OR sex) before/20 discrimination