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Legal Research at Princeton: U.S. Law: Primary Sources of U.S. Law

Understanding Primary Sources of U.S. Law

In legal research vocabulary, the term “primary sources” refers to sources of the law itself.  In other words, primary sources of law are the texts of enactments by governments containing rules that govern a jurisdiction.  In sum, secondary sources of law (discussed above) are works about the law; primary sources are the law itself.

 

Each branch of government, both at the federal and state level, produces law.  Understanding the overall landscape of the legal sources is helpful before beginning research of one source or one area of law. The chart below is a simplified overview of the universe of federal law, listing the major types of law publications of each branch.  Most state governments will produce law in a similar set-up.

 

 

 

The Constitution
↓ ↓ ↓

 


 

Branch of Govt.

Judicial

Legislative

Executive

 

Type of Law Produced

Case Law

Statutes

Regulations

 

Chronological Publication of Law

Case Law Reporters

Session Laws (Stat. at Large)

 The Federal Register

 

Publication of Law By Subject

None

United States Code (USC)

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

 

Note that each government branch produces law that is published chronologically.  The public laws and regulations are then published in codes by subject.  Case law is not published by subject (thus, research case law requires a “finding tool” to locate cases by subject).

Sub-tabs on this page will discuss case law research, statutory research and regulatory research.

Contact the Law Librarian

DAVID HOLLANDER
Law and Legal Studies Librarian
Firestone Library - SSRC
A-15-J-2
dholland@princeton.edu

 

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