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United States Legislative History: What is Legislative History?

Last Updated: May 22, 2018 12:24 PM

Page Contents

  • Definition of Legislative History
  • Types of Sources
  • Locating the Sources
  • The Statute
  • Bills & Amendments
  • Committee Hearings
  • Committee Reports
  • Conference Reports
  • Congressional Debates
  • Presidential Messages
  • Collected Legislative Histories
  • Other Research Guides - Federal Legislative History


    What is legislative history?

    Legislative History refers to the documents generated by Congress during the passage of a statute. Legislative history is often used by litigants and courts to help ascertain the meaning of a statute.

    For a description of the Federal legislative process, see:
    Enactment of a Law by U.S. Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove
    How Our Laws Are Made by U.S. House of Representatives Parliamentarian Charles Johnson

    What documents comprise legislative history?

    The Statute - Often overlooked, the text of the statute as passed is the best evidence of legislative intent.

    Bills and Amendments - Versions of the bill, as introduced, and as amended during the Congress consideration.

    Committee Hearings - A bill typically will be referred to a House and/or Senate committee. The committee may hold hearings on the bill. Sometimes Congressional committees hold hearings on issues prior to drafting legislation. Hearings are useful for identifying competing views, but typically carry less w eight than rep orts as evidence of legislative intent.

    Committee Reports - Whenever a bill is voted out of committee, it goes to the floor for full debate. The bill is then accompanied by a committee report. Committee reports are generally considered very good indicators of Congressional intent.

    Congressional Debates - All members of the House or Senate can participate in the floor debate. These debates, proposed amendments and floor votes are recorded in the Congressional Record.

    Conference Reports - When bills passed by the Senate and House differ substantively, a Conference Committee, comprised of members of both houses will try to work out a compromise version. The Conference Report explains the changes made by this committee.

    Presidential Messages - Presidential messages can include signing statements, when the president approves legislation or veto messages, when (s)he vetos a bill. Also, the president sometimes sends a message in support of legislation that (s)he proposes to Congress.

    Sources for legislative history documents (Federal)




    You can also search by the hearing title in the UB Online Catalog.


    You can also search by report title in the UB Online Catalog.


    • Conference Committee Reports are available as part of each of the collections listed under Committee Reports above.


    The Law Library has a print version of the Congressional Record from its inception in 1874 its predecessors, the Register of Debates (1824-1837) and the Congressional Globe (1833-1973) on the 6th floor.  Also available via:




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