Monday, December 13, 2010

Federal Legislative History

What changes was Congress trying to make in a particular law? Did it consider the specific situation in which your client is interested? What does that phrase in the law really mean? Does that section of the law apply to the actions taken by your client?

Compiling a legislative history is a traditional task for new lawyers. A legislative history is a collection of the documents produced by Congress during the enactment of a law. Some legislative histories even include information about prior bills introduced in Congress on the same topic or commentary by outside sources, such as newspaper articles that discuss various provisions.

Locating everything can be a daunting task, but fortunately there are some aids for you. A good first step is to take a look at the Gallagher research guide on Federal Legislative History. It outlines the various documents you may wish to locate and how to find them. With a bit of luck, you may be able to locate a compiled legislative history covering your bill - where someone else has already gathered citations to all those Congressional documents for you! Check here in the Gallagher research guide for the possibilities.

As just one example of the types of documents one could gather on a particular bill, check out this "brief legislative history" on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act (Pub. L. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1326 (2010)), prepared by law librarian Rick McKinney. In this law Congress addresses the problems of the "too-big-to-fail" financial institutions. McKinney's history has handy links to the listed documents and provides background for the provisions that made it into the final version that Congress passed. For a more traditional legislative history of this law, one that focuses on the documents produced during its passage through Congress, check out this compiled legislative history edited by law librarian William H. Manz, which is found in the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library of HeinOnline.

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