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Federal Legislative History Research

A how to guide for pinpointing congressional documents to help determine legislative intent

What is a Precompiled Legislative History?

What do you do if you want to pull together everything—all the bill drafts, floor debates, hearings, reports, committee prints, etc.—related to a specific public law? Reach for the compiled legislative history! There are several sources for precompiled legislative histories, available electronically or in print. For now, we’re just going to focus on precompiled histories available through ProQuest and HeinOnline. Keep in mind that other sources exist (Westlaw and Lexis both have some, for example), and contact a reference librarian if you need help locating additional sources for precompiled legislative histories.

Person carrying a large history book

ProQuest Congressional

ProQuest Congressional is an almost comprehensive collection of congressional documents from 1789 to the present. While the database isn’t technically a precompiled legislative history, running a search by bill number can help you obtain all documents related to a bill.

  • The materials available in ProQuest Congressional extend beyond those within ProQuest Legislative Insight—ProQuest Congressional includes documents that have not been precompiled into a legislative history, such as documents related to a bill that never became a public law or documents related to a public law but that were produced in a Congressional session previous to the session that actually passed the public law. 
  • The database contains the full text of hearings, reports, committee prints, and other federal legislative history materials.

Searching within ProQuest Congressional

  • Advanced search functions allow users to browse document collections or search by citations.
  • Due to the high cost of the database as well as contractual agreements with law firms, you are unlikely to have access to ProQuest Congressional after you graduate SLS.

HeinOnline

HeinOnline’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library includes a collection of more than 80 full-text compiled legislative histories. The U.S. Federal Legislative History Library is divided into two different legislative history collections: the U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection and the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database.

  • U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection: Many of these compiled legislative histories have been compiled by the Government Printing Office. In addition, HeinOnline has contracted with legal experts to compile and publish legislative histories in-house.
    • Authorship of these legislative histories is listed on the title page of the history.
  • Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database: These compiled legislative histories are based on the loose-leaf publication by Nancy P. Johnson, Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books.
    • This resource occasionally includes citations (though not the document itself) to news articles and details regarding lobbying interests as well as government documents.

Searching within HeinOnline’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library

  • U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection
    • Search this collection by publication title, public law number, or popular name.
  • Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database
    • Search this database by bill number, Congress, and/or related document title.
    • Remember, if you want to search by phrase, put your search terms in quotation marks!