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Circuit Riders: Finding Federal Statutes

Basic Legal Research Guide

Finding Federal Statutes in Print

If you have access to the United States Code (U.S.C.) or one of its annotated versions (U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S.) in print, you can find federal statutes by:
(1) citation;
(2) popular name; 
(3) browsing the table of contents; and
(4) subject.

(1) Citation
if you know the citation to a federal statute relevant to your legal issue, you can retrieve it by going to the volume that contains that title (20) and section (1402) of the United States Code (20 U.S.C. § 1402).


(2) Popular Name
The print versions of the U.S. Code include volumes that contain Popular Names Tables for you to look up federal statutes by their short titles or popular names (e.g., Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act). 


Popular Name Table including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

(3) Table of Contents
Once you find a federal statute that addresses your legal issue, you can browse the Table of Contents for other related statutes. For example, listed above section 1402 in table of contents for Title 20 is section 1401 Definitions statute, which contains many key terms to the special education community like free appropriate public education (FAPE) and individualized education program (IEP). 

Table of Contents including code sections 10400 through 1409 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

(4) Subject
All print codes (U.S.C, U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.) include General Index volumes for you to browse topics and subtopics for relevant federal statutes. For example, you would find the code sections for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act listed under the topic "Special Education."

Finding Federal Statutes for Free Online

The U.S. House of Representatives' Office of the Law Revision Counsel maintains an up-to-date and searchable online version of the United States Code that allows you to retrieve a federal statute by citation, browse by title and section, locate an Act by popular name, or search the text of the United States Code.

U.S. Code website maintained by the U.S. House of Representatives' Office of the Law Revision Counsel. 

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) maintains an authenticated online version of the United States Code through its govinfo website that you can browse by title and section, retrieve by citation, or keyword search.

       The United States Code page of the GPO's govinfo website.

Non-governmental websites such as Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute offer unofficial unannotated versions of the United States Code that allow you to browse, search, or retrieve federal statutes by citation or popular name.  

                    Cornell's Legal Information Institute's U.S. Code website.

Finding Federal Statutes Using Agency Websites

Federal agency websites can be a great resource for finding links to key federal laws they implement and enforce.
For example, the U.S. Department of Education maintains a website devoted to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (amended by the IDEIA in 2004). The IDEA website includes a Law and Policy tab, which provides a link to the text of the law.

IDEA Website.


You can find an A-Z Index of of U.S. government department and agency websites on the website where you can also search for agencies by topic.

Finding Federal Statutes Using Subscription Databases

Some public libraries and colleges and universities provide access to annotated versions of the United States Code through subscriptions to Westlaw (U.S.C.A.) or LexisNexis (U.S.C.S.).

For example, the Richland Library and the Greenville County library systems offer public access Westlaw (U.S.C.A.) to its members and the University of South Carolina subscribes to NexisUni™, formerly LexisNexis Academic (U.S.C.S.).

Both subscription databases allow you to retrieve a federal statute by citation, browse by title and section, locate an Act by popular name, and search the text of their annotated United States Codes.