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Federal Legislature

Public Laws (Slip Laws)

After the President signs a bill into law, it is assigned a public law number (Pub. L.) by the Office of the Federal Register. Public laws, also called slip laws, are the first iteration of a law.

Session Laws: U.S. Statutes at Large

The United States Statutes at Large is an official publication of the United States and is the permanent bound collection of public (and private) laws. It is issued at the end of each legislative session. 

Although publication did not begin until 1846, the Statutes at Large retrospectively covers public and private laws enacted since 1789 and treaties 1778-1951. Statutes at Large is arranged with the text of the public laws first, followed by private laws, concurrent resolutions, and proclamations. 

U.S. Code

The United States Code is a subject arrangement of all public laws in effect at the time of printing. At the end of every legislative session, the laws passed in that session are compiled and codified by subject in the code. The code only contains the permanent laws that are in force at the time of publication and removes repealed laws and revised laws that have been amended by Congress.

The United States Code is the official federal code and is published by the United States Government. The current format for the Code was established in 1926. It has 54 titles. Each title is divided into chapters and further subdivided into sections. A new edition is reissued every six years and is updated in print annually with cumulative bound supplements.

At the end of each section of the code is historical information on the statute. It states when the law went into effect and any amendments made to the act since then. It gives the date of enactment and provides references to the Statutes at Large citation and the public law number. Codification and amendment sections follow providing information about the statute. 

Annotated U.S. Code: USCS and USCA

Annotated codes are published by private publishers and are unofficial federal codes. They have all of the same features of the U.S. Code, but also provide annotations to statutes and are updated more frequently. The United States Code Service (USCS) published by Lexis and United States Code Annotated (USCA) published by West are two annotated codes.

USCS and USCA provide annotations to supplement the statute. They provide historical notes, which  give the date of enactment, the public law number, and the Statutes at Large cite. There are also brief comments about amendments made to the statute.

If there is a complimentary Code of Federal Regulations section, it will be included in the annotations as well as any cross-references to other USCS or USCA citations. The annotations also often provide references to treatises, the American Law Reports (ALR), law review articles, and legal encyclopedias. 

A Notes and Decisions section follows which contains brief abstracts of cases discussing the particular statute. The USCS includes judicial and administrative decisions, while USCA contains judicial decisions only. USCA is more comprehensive in the judicial decisions it includes. The USCS does not include all decisions on the statute; it excludes those that are obsolete or repetitive.

United States Code Service (USCS)

United States Code Annotated (USCA)

  • Online: Westlaw (current, Westlaw password required); Historical (1990-current, Westlaw password required)