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Cite-Checking Research Guide

Types of Legislative History Sources

Legislative history documents (e.g., bills, committee reports and hearings, floor debates) are often cited in law journal articles.  Below is some basic information pertaining to Congressional (federal) reports, debates, and hearings. This is followed by a list of databases that can be used to search for these and other types of Congressional legislative history documents.

Congressional Committee Reports

Congressional committee report citations can typically be recognized as such by the H.R. Rep. (House Report) and S. Rep. (Senate Report) abbreviations that precede the report numbers.  (If the number is preceded by just H.R. or S., this signifies that it is a House of Representatives or Senate bill as opposed to a report.)

A complete set for Congressional committee reports is the United States Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 which is available electronically (see below).

Congressional Floor Debates

The Congressional Record (Cong. Rec.) is the standard source for Congressional floor debates since 1873. Congressional debates prior to 1873 can be found in publications such as the Congressional Globe and the Register of Debates in Congress.  These publications are available electronically through the law library catalog, ADVOCAT.

Congressional Hearings

For some hearings, the USC Libraries Catalog will provide links to the PDF versions available on the federal government's govinfo website (see below).

Online Sources

Listed below are descriptions of five electronic resources that contain the full text of one or more of the types of legislative history documents discussed above.  Each of these resources is limited in the type of information provided and/or the time periods covered.  The comparison chart in the next section can help you quickly determine which resource(s) you will want to use given the type of document you are looking for and the year in which it was published.

When you first go to the site, you can choose the type of document you wish to search (legislation, debates in the Congressional Record, committee reports, etc.) by using the drop-down menu in the box on the left-hand side of the screen.

If you have the citation to a specific bill or report, you can enter that citation in the main search box.  To search for a specific page in the Congressional Record, you can choose the "Congressional Record" link near the top of the screen and then browse by date.  For help with searching this website, click on the "Help" link located over the main search box. 

Comparison Chart

The chart below is designed to help direct you to the most appropriate electronic resource(s) given the type of document you are looking for and the year in which your document was published.  In addition to providing these resources’ years of coverage for the different types of legislative history documents (coverage dates subject to change), the chart indicates if the resources provide access to PDF images for each type of document. govinfo HeinOnline U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 ProQuest Congressional**
Bills 1973 (93rd Congress) - present (PDF) 1993 (103rd Congress) - present (PDF)     1789 (1st Congress) - present (PDF)
Reports 1995 (104th Congress) - present (PDF) 1995 (104th Congress) - present (PDF)   1817 (15th Congress) - 1994 (103rd Congress) (PDF) 1789 (1st Congress) - present (PDF)
Debates 1983 (98th Congress) - present (PDF) 1873 (43rd Congress) - present (PDF from 1994) 1789 (1st Congress) - present (PDF)   1789 (1st Congress) - present (PDF)
Hearings   1957 (85th Congress) - present (selective coverage) (PDF) 1929 (71st Congress) - present (selective coverage)* (PDF)   1824 (18th Congress, 2nd Session) - present (PDF)

*HeinOnline also contains a handful of earlier hearings published between 1889 and 1926.

**ProQuest Legislative Insight has compiled legislative histories (with associated documents in PDF) up to the present for enacted legislation, i.e., public laws.  These can be found in the Legislative Insight database and can be searched for in various ways, including by Public Law number.

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