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Legal Research at Princeton: U.S. Law: Statutes

Introduction to Statutes

A statute is a law that is passed by the legislature and signed by the executive (president or governor).  This law is first published, soon after enactment, as a slip law (in paper form).   The slip laws for each legislative session are then published in a set of session laws, containing all the statutes passed in that session, in chronological order. 

Then, each statute is codified (organized by subject) and put into a code near other statutes that deal with the same subject.  Put differently, codes are statutes that are arranged by topic, reflecting the statutes on any given subject that is currently in force, regardless of when passed. Contrast this with session laws that only reflect a particular statute at the moment it was passed or amended

The code should be used for most types of statutory research.  Because the codes in electronic databases are usually up to date, it is usually not necessary to consult session laws. 

Use session laws: (1) for historical research, since a code is constantly evolving to reflect statutes currently in force, as repealed and amended statutes (and sections of statutes) are integrated into the code; or (2) to see a full statute as it read when passed, since a single statute that address different subject areas can be split and placed in separate sections of the code.

Getting Started with Statutory Research


Once you have found a statutory citation in a secondary source, you can enter that citation into Westlaw Campus (in the "Find a Document by Citation" search box on the left of the Westlaw Campus law tab home screen), and pull up the citation.  Westlaw Campus contains statutes for the federal government and all 50 states.  Each section of the statutes is annotated with information about its history, cases that cite the statute, and secondary sources about that statute.

  • Full-text searching of statutes is very difficult.  It is best to find a statutory citation in a secondary resource, use and index, or browse section titles to find a statute on a given title (remember, statutes are already organized by topic).
  • Researching historical statutes is very difficult because by definition a statute is the law currently in force. For information about researching historical statues, see the research guide called Law for Historians, available here: [--].

Federal Statutes

Federal Session Laws: once enacted, federal statues are called public laws and are identified by a public law number (citation form: P.L. 107-10).  Since 1789, federal public laws are published in chronological order in session laws called the Statutes at Large (citation form: 888 Stat. 496).

Statutes at Large (electronic)

Statutes at Large (in print)
Available in print: Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone
KF50 .xU5 
Organized by Public Law number (P.L., Pub. L.).

    Federal Code: federal statutes are codified into the official United States Code (U.S.C.). Each subject area in the code is called a “title” and a statute is identified by a title and section:  8 U.S.C. § 1701.

    United States Code (U.S.C.) – official government publication
    Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone 
    KF62 2000 .A2
    Editions prior to 1988 are located in Firestone (F) stacks

    United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) – published by West; AVAILABLE ELECTRONICALLY ON WESTLAW CAMPUS: To find a relevant statute, browse the titles (like a table of contents), or browse or search the index.  Full text searching for statutes is usually not very fruitful.
    Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone

    United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) – published by Lexis; AVAILABLE ELECTRONICALLY ON LEXIS ACADEMIC: To find a relevant statute, browse the titles (like a table of contents), or browse or search the index.  Full text searching for statutes is usually not very fruitful.
    [Note: Princeton does not own this set in print.]

    United States Code - Free Internet Versions
    Cornell Legal Information Institute:




    State Statutes

    State statutes are available on Westlaw Campus and Lexis Academic for all 50 states.  To find a relevant statute, browse the titles (like a table of contents), or browse or search the index.  Full text searching for statutes is usually not very fruitful.

    Princeton University Library owns the following state session laws and codes in print.  

    Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey 
    Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone 
    Holdings: 1776 through current 
    These are the session laws for New Jersey.

    New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) 
    Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone
    KFN1830 1937 .A42 
    This is New Jersey’s statutory code.

    Laws of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 
    Firestone Library (F)  
    Holdings: 1861-2001, no. 116  
    Princeton does not own Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated by West in paper and Pennsylvania does not publish an official code. There is also no official web version of the Pennsylvania consolidated or session laws.

    Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature 
    Firestone Library (F).  
    Holdings: 35th session (1812)- 224th session (2001) 
    Princeton does not own McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated (New York’s code) by West in paper.

    Internet Resources for State Statutes

    Most state legislatures will include the state statutes on their web sites.  You can also sometimes find a state's session laws on line as well. For example:

    New Jersey State Legislature 
    Scroll down on the left hand side for a browsable version of the State Statutes; a keyword search is available.  There are also Chapter Laws (New Jersey’s session laws) from 1996+.  Chapter Laws show the laws as they appeared when they were passed (a chronological listing), as compared to the NJSA that compiles the statutes with amendments and annotations by subject.  Bills are available back to 1996 as well.

    New Jersey Session (Chapter) Laws on the Rutgers Camden Law Library Web Site:
    Contains New Jersey session laws back to 1776.

    Contact the Law Librarian

    Law and Legal Studies Librarian
    Firestone Library - SSRC