User Guide

User Guide


1. Index method
A. There is a general indexs.
B. This U.S. Code Platform has detailed individual title indexes.

2. Topic method
A. Use the general index
B. Use the detailed index for each title

3. Popular Name Table and Browse by Popular Name
A. All three codes have popular name tables.
B. Some acts known by a popular name which differs from the name of the act.
C. Example: 42 USC 14701 concerning registration of sex offenders is known as
“Megan’s Law.”

In this Portal:
B. Find citation; search or browse code, index, Popular Name Table.
B. Find citation; search or browse code.
B. Search or browse code and Popular Names of Laws.

II. Legal Research on the World Wide Web: An Emerging Phenomenon

Internet versions of primary law, of course, are not usually the official, authorized sources. However, four developments have made it more likely that citations to primary law on the Internet may become more common and acceptable as cited sources. First, the federal government has put great emphasis on electronic publication and dissemination of information.(3) As shining examples, at least two major federal law resources on the Internet do have the official status. (1) The Federal Register is recognized as official in all three formats (paper, microfiche, online on GPO Access) in which it is published,(4) and (2) federal slip laws are recognized as official sources in both the print format and the GPO Access Web format.(5) Statistics on the use of Federal Register products on the Web (23 million uses in first quarter of FY98 as opposed to 22 million uses in all of FY97!) (6)are evidence of the rapidly growing use the public is making of primary law published by the U.S. government on the Internet.

Second, the advent of vendor-neutral, medium-neutral citation reform, in which one can pinpoint cite from slip opinions in any format without using West pagination, makes it possible to cite cases directly from the Internet.(7) Several states have adopted citation reform.(8) Third, the U.S. 2d Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed that a CD-ROM publisher may copy opinions (but not headnotes or key numbers) from West’s Supreme Court Reporter and the Federal Reporter series. This decision may encourage competitors in other formats such as the World Wide Web.(9) Fourth, Internet research by attorneys and their clients has been encouraged and demanded by a court decision which held that “a reasonable investor is presumed to have information available in the public domain” and that “federal and state legislation and regulations, as well as information regarding industry trends are easily accessed on the information superhighway.”(10)

III. Official United States Code

The official printed United States Code is published by the U.S. Government Printing Office. It is helpful to talk about it first, in part to understand the currency of the USC on the Web. Since 1926, the United States Code has been published every six years. In between editions, annual cumulative supplements are published. The most recent edition was published in 1994 and contains laws in force on January 4, 1995. As of this writing, Cumulative Supplement V has been published through Title 50, bringing the official USC up to date through January 23, 2000, the beginning of the beginning of the Second Session of the 106th Congress.

The Code is divided by broad subjects into 50 titles. The House Revision Office is going through the Code title by title and has certified Titles 1, 3, 4, 5, 9-11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35-39, 44, 46, and 49 as positive law. The laws in effect in the remaining titles are established as prima facie law,(11) meaning that United States Statutes at Large would govern in case of a conflict between it and the USC.(12)

IV. The United States Code on the World Wide Web

The United States Code can be found at four free locations on the World Wide Web and at several fee-based sites. This article will focus on the free versions. A decision of which to use at any given time will depend on the features, currency, and updating facilities of each site. A description of each site follows. However, since these Web sites undergo frequent revisions, one should check a site for new features, for enhancements, and for currency whenever the site is accessed.

U.S. House of Representatives (

This excellent site is produced by the the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (LRC). As mentioned above, the LRC is responsible for compiling and publishing the official United States Code. The LRC’s homepage, serving as the U.S. Code‘s homepage, provides links to several useful and informative pages: an informational page about the Office of the LRC and the USC database; the search page; a page to view or download individual titles or chapters; “Classification Tables listing sections of the U.S. Code affected by recently enacted laws;” and the codification legislation page. All of these pages will be described below. You can find links to them on the top and bottom of each U.S. Code page, as well as from the Code‘s homepage.

Currency (as of August 8, 2001): Unlike the print U.S. Code, Titles 1-9 are based on the 2000 edition and are current through January 2, 2001. Titles 10-50 and the Table of Popular Names incorporate Cumulative Supplement V and are current through January 23, 2000. Update references are current through Public Law 107-22, approved July 26, 2001.

Searching (To access the search page, click on “Search the U.S. Code” on the homepage or at the top or bottom of any USC page or go to

1. A search page provides a search form which allows any combination of the following to be entered: keyword(s), title, section, subtitle, chapter, subchapter, part, subpart, division, rule, form, and appendix.

2. Field searching. For a description, click on “help” and then on “Limiting Search to a Particular Field.”

3. The Additional Search Options section, found after the search form, offers the following options:

Concept performs a search generated with the help of related search terms.
Relate suggests appropriate search terms.
Fuzzy scans for words with spelling similar to that of a query term and helps to identify correct spelling of your search terms.
Dictionary verifies the existence of a query word and/or its variants within a database.

You may select any term or combination of terms generated by Relate, Fuzzy, or Dictionary and search for them.

4. Next on the search page is “Cross Reference Search,” where you can search for references to a specific Code section.

5. Last on the search page is a link to the Search Prior Versions of the U.S. Code page. Prior annual versions back to the 1988 Edition, Supplement II (laws enacted through January 2, 1991) are now available for searching through that page.


NOTE: The updating facility is described here as part of the description of this site. For a more detailed treatment of the updating process at the U.S. House site and the location of amending statutes, see V. Updating aUnited States Code Section Through the U.S. House Site.

1. After you have conducted a search using one of the methods above, a documents hit list will of course be returned. The hit list will contain update documents for Code sections as well as Code text (section, chapter, etc.) documents. The update document for a given Code section lists the public law numbers and sections and the Statutes at Large citations of amending laws enacted after the currency date of the last supplement incorporated into the Code. The update files are generally current through the date given for the U.S. Code Classification Tables on the “About the Office and the United States Code” page <> and on the Classification Tables themselves <>. However, because the Classification Tables are added first, there may be a time gap before the update file enhancements are completed.

2. When updating a Code section, select and view both the desired Code text document and the accompanying update document. Print as needed. (NOTE: No update document will be returned in a search for a particularCode section if no laws affecting that Code section were enacted during the time period covered by the update files.)

3. Check the update file against the appropriate U.S. Code Classification Table at the U.S. House site to verify that the newest additions to the tables have been added to the update files.

4. Procedures for locating slip laws cited in the update files and locating more recent amendments are given in V. Updating a United States Code Section Through the U.S. House Site.


1. The U.S. House of Representatives Law Revision Counsel’s U.S. Code Classification Table page <>. The 107th Congress “Sorted in U.S. Code order” table offers the most current way to learn what Code sections have been amended by laws enacted. (See Updating above.) Other tables tell you what Code sections were affected by each public law 1999-

2. The About the Office of Law Revision Counsel and the United States Code page provides a link to order information from the U. S. Government Printing Office for the official print USC and for the CD-ROM version. Click on “Government Printing Office.” Most links, as of this writing, do not work.

3. The Table of Popular Names provides the public law numbers and Statutes at Large citations for a law when you know its popular name, or keywords in the name. This table is accessible only by searching the full-text of the U.S. Code. To limit your search to the Table, add and ‘popular names’ or popular ADJ names(13) to your search terms, i.e., ‘americans with disabilities’ and ‘popular names’. Because the entire table cannot be accessed directly, it is awkward to consult, but the information in it can be very helpful. As of this writing, it is based on Supplement V of the 1994 edition and so is up to date as of January 23, 2000. Always note the date given on the upper right-hand corner of a Popular Name Table document.

4. Each document has links to the next and previous documents, so you can easily view the surrounding sections or chapters of the Code.

5. Only at the U.S. House site is it possible to search for Code sections added by new legislation but not yet incorporated into the Code. These new Code sections have update files (even though there is no text in the compilation), which can be retrieved by searching for the new Code section. One can then go to the cited law(s) for the text and any subsequent amendments.

6. You may display or download or link to a specific title or chapter of the Code. The display is in Microsoft Word. The U.S. House also makes zip files for each USC title available for downloading. Cornell now downloads these files for its Code database and adds user-friendly features (see below). As noted above, as of this writing, Titles 1-9 of the searchable Code are current through January 2, 2001. The remaining searchable titles are current through January 23, 2000. However, the downloadable files are not as current. About two-thirds of the downloadable titles are current throuh January 23, 2000. The remainder are current through January 5, 1999. Thus, the user should be aware that the downloadable files are not always as current as the searchable Code.

Access the downloadable files from the main search page by clicking on “download titles and chapters or view list of titles” or go to When you display a downloadable title or chapter, always check the date on the upper right-hand corner of the document. That will tell you its currency.

7. You may learn what title is currently being reviewed for positive law (see above) and/or what title has most recently been reviewed into positive law. Go to or click on “Codification Legislation” on the U.S. Code home page You will find links to authorizing legislation or proposed bills, as well as to committee reports detailing the revisions or proposed revisions.


1. Phrase: A phrase in single quotation marks finds the exact phrase: ‘toxic substance’.

2. Truncation: agricultur*col*r. Note: * represents zero or more characters; ? represents one character. Words stems are used by default, so it is not usually necessary to truncate at the ends of words.

3. Boolean connectors: AND, OR, NOT, ADJ (first word followed immediately by the second word), NEAR/n (first word followed up to n words later by the second), W/n (one word within up to n words of the other).

4. Code section: Use the title, section, etc. search form. Alternatively, in the Search Words box on that form or on the keyword search box on the main U.S. Code screen, use: ’19 usc sec 2171′ or ’19 usc sec 2171′:CITE. Note: This will find Code section 2171 of Title 19. Do not use’19 u.s.c. 2171′ (spaces before and after u.s.c., periods or spaces after each letter in usc, capital letters not needed, single quotes), as that will find references to the Code but not the Code section itself. However, for better results, researchers wishing to find any references to a particular Code section in other Code sections should use the search form created for that purpose (see Searching above).

5. Capitalization: not case sensitive.

6. Hits (search results) displayed: 100 on searches conducted from main search page, 500 on searches conducted from title, section, etc. form, but both can be changed to maximum of 4,096.

7. Ranking of search results: by relevance–documents with larger numbers of occurrences of search words and documents with more search words are displayed first.

GPO Access (

Currency (as of August 8, 2001): Titles 1-50 of United States Code Online via GPO Access are current through Supplement V, laws enacted as of January 23, 2000. As of this writing, update notes for Code sections appear to be current through December 29, 2000.

A new browsable version of the Code is a year older than the searchable version, as of this writing. Currency of the browsable version is January 6, 1999, with update notes current through various dates in 2000.


1. GPO Access allows you to search prior annual versions for historical research, as does the U.S. House site. However, at GPO Access, the earliest version available is the 1994 edition, with general and permanent laws are in effect as of January 4, 1995. The U.S. House versions go back to 1991.

2. The keyword searching facility provides one box in which users enter their search query. The search words in the query can be from the text, notes, headings, or update notes. A citation, i.e.,7usc2030, (see Mechanics below) can also be used.

3. Unlike the other sites, GPO Access does not provide separate boxes for a Code section search.

4. Limiting a search to a particular Code title is possible. To illustrate, add and 7usc* (no spaces–truncate with *) to your search words to limit your search to Title 7.

5. A browsable version at is now an option. Click on Browse the United States Code or go to As mentioned above, the GPO Access browsable version is currently older than the searchable version. The researcher should always check the date at the top of a Code section document.


WARNING: The GPO Access updating facility is described here as part of the description of the GPO Access site. However, the updating process can be accomplished more conveniently and efficiently at the more up-to-date U.S. House site. Therefore, the researcher is advised to follow the updating process at the U.S. House site, as described in V. Updating a United States Code Section Through the U.S. House Site.

1. Conduct a search using the most current version available. Select the desired document (Code section text) from the search results. When you display the document, notice that the date of the U.S. Code compilation is included at the very top of the page. Immediately below it are references to any amending public laws, i.e., “document affected by public law 106-200 …”. In lieu of amendments, you may find a note such as “document not affected by laws enacted between between January 23, 2000 and December 29, 2000.” What you won’t find in the first instance is when this information was added or last updated. This makes the compilation date crucial. Reminder: As you can see, the U.S. House compilation and updating facility are more current. That is why, for a more current and efficient search, you were advised in the warning above to proceed to a Part V and search for your identified Code section through the U.S. House.

2. Locate the public law(s) cited in these update notes. Proceed to the GPO Access public laws. A link is provided on the U.S. Code search page. For information on this process, see Part V.

3. Search the text of public laws of the 106th congress if you wish to update further. The currency of the update notes is not spelled out at the GPO Access site (see above). Therefore, to be safe, the researcher should search for slip laws enacted after the last public law listed in the update references found in Step 1. If no update references are listed, the researcher should search for slip laws from the date of the Code cumulation. For more information, see Part V below.


1. GPO Access provides the Acts Cited by Popular Name table. Less current than the U.S. House version (see above), the GPO Access table provides the public law number and Statutes at Large citation of an act and can be accessed only by a keyword search of the whole Code. Add and “popular name” to your keywords.(14) For example, if you wish to learn the public law numbers of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its amendments, you can enter the following search: “americans with disabilities” and “popular name”.

2. As mentioned above, a browsable hypertext version is provided. However, check the dates on Code sections retrieved, as this version may be older than the searchable version.


1. Phrase: A phrase in quotation marks finds the exact phrase, as well as documents where the words are separated by as many as twenty characters, i.e., “toxic substance”

2. Boolean connectors: AND, OR, NOT, ADJ (first word precedes the second by twenty or fewer characters)

3. Truncation: agricultur* “toxic substance*”

4. Code section: 19usc2171*. Note: This will find code section 2171 of Title 19. If you wish to find any references to that section in other Code sections, use “19 u.s.c. 2171” (spaces before and after u.s.c., periods or spaces after each letter in usc, quotation marks needed, capital letters not needed. Use the latter spacing for other GPO Access files such as the public laws and Congressional bills files).

5. Capitalization: only for Boolean connectors

6. Hits (search results) displayed: 40 but can be changed to maximum of 200

7. Ranking of search results: by relevance–documents with larger numbers of occurrences of search words and documents with more search words first.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (

The most user friendly of the three sites, Cornell offers several ways to locate what you need in the Code. The people at Cornell have provided a number of useful features. And Cornell offers a very unusual and interesting facility for keyword searching and honing your search. Cornell obtains its Code from the downloadable Code at the U.S. House site.

Currency (as of August 8, 2001): Cornell’s Code version comes from the U.S. House downloadable Code (see above). As with the U.S. House downloadable titles, about two-thirds of the titles at Cornell are current as of January 23, 2000 (1994 edition, Supplement V). The remaining are dated January 5, 1999 (Supplement IV). However, inexplicably, Title 36 is dated January 26, 1998. NOTE: Be sure to check the date on the upper right-hand corner of a table of contents page for a title or chapter or on the text of a Code section. Cornell does have an updating facility which uses U.S. House update files. However, it is not working as of this writing and has not worked for a long time, so it is impossible to talk about the currentness of updating references. When the process does not work, a “Bad Response” page is displayed. On that page, links to U.S. House update files are given only through 106th Congress, end of First Session (December 1999), which is not current enough. When the process does work, the reader is advised to verfiy results against the U.S. House Classification Tables, but links are provided only through 106th Congress, end of First Session, which, again, is not current enough. See warnings described in Updating below.

Searching: Cornell’s search screens for the U.S. Code are very helpful.

1. A keyword search screen.

2. A title-section search screen, which has boxes for entering the desired title (i.e., Title 15 Commerce and Trade) and section numbers.

3. The table of contents of Code titles on Cornell’s U.S. Code home page provides an alternative way to search. Each of the fifty Code titles (i.e., Title 20 Education) at Cornell has a hypertext link to a table of contents of the chapters in that title. Each of the chapters listed is then linked to a list of sections. Select the desired section and you will get the full text. Locating the broad topic, selecting that title, locating the narrower topic by browsing the section headings, and then reviewing the full-text can be a useful search option.

4. Individual search screens for each Code title allow you to keyword search only that title. These search screens are accessed by clicking on “Search” by the desired title in the table of contents of Code titles (see above). Cornell also provides a keyword search box for an individual Code title in the right frame when the table of contents for an individual Code title or chapter is displayed or when a Code section text is displayed.


WARNING: Because Cornell site is not always as current as the U.S. House site, leaving gaps in the update references retrieved and because the Cornell updating facility simply has not been working reliably, the reasearcher is advised to follow the updating procedures described in Part V and to not try to update at Cornell.


1. Also available is a Table of Popular Names. Some acts have hypertext links to the Code section where the law can be found. Links are not provided when an act is found in multiple locations in the Code. This Table of Popular Names does not provide public law numbers or Statutes at Large citations of the original or amending acts, as do those at the U.S. House and GPO Access.

2. Cornell is the only one of the four sites which provides hypertext links to most Code sections, subsections, etc., cited in the Code text.

3. Notes (effective date, source, amendment history, etc.), which are found at the end of each section in the printed U.S. Code and in the other electronic versions, are in a separate file at Cornell. Click on “Notes” in the right Finding Aids frame. On the negative side, this might be confusing for people who are not familiar with the printed U.S. Code. On the positive side, Cornell provides hypertext links to public laws, where available, and to other references in these notes.

4. The site has a very unusual keyword search engine (see Mechanics below).

5. Ranking of search results is more sophisticated (see Mechanics below).

6. As at the U.S. House site, Cornell provides links from one Code section to the next and previous sections. In addition, when a Code section text is displayed, one can click on the chapter and title tables of contents and move around in that way.

7. Cornell provides links to CFR parts containing codified regulations enabled by a U.S. Code section. These links are based on the Table of Authorities, dated January 1, 1998, which is found on the GPO Access Code of Federal Regulations page. For example, see 29 USC 2654 (authorizes regulations for the Family and Medical Leave Act). Access these links by clicking on “Parallel authorities: CFR” on the right “Finding Aids” frame.

8. “Topical references” links are also provided for Code sections. These are Cornell Web pages related to the topic of the Code section. Click on “Topical references” on the right “Finding Aids” frame to access them.


1. Phrase: toxic substance (no quotation marks, documents with this exact phrase will be listed first).

2. Truncation: searches are done with word stems, so truncation is not necessary.

3. A Boolean operators option can be selected.

4. Code section: Use the title-section search form or the Table of Contents of Code titles to find the desired section. Alternatively, use 19 usc sec 2171 in the keyword search box.

5. Capitalization: not used.

6. Hits (search results) displayed: no limit given.

7. Ranking of search results: three choices. 1) by relevance–documents with larger numbers of occurrences of search words and documents with more search words are listed first. 2) by relevance groups and then date added. 3) By date and then relevance.

8. Each hit listed tells you which of your search words were found. You can check the most relevant documents, but it is not clear what you can do with the checked items.

9. You can check some frequently occurring words displayed under the search box in order to further refine your search.

10. You may exclude from the results all items less than whatever percent of relevence you enter in a box.

11. You may choose to include items modified within the number of days you enter into the appropriate box.

Findlaw (

Findlaw’s Code version is similar to Cornell’s, except that some titles at Findlaw are less current, the site is slower, the search engine is quite different, and fewer features are provided.

Currency (as of August 4, 2001): with Findlaw, as with Cornell, most titles are current through either January 23, 2000 or January 5, 1999. However, at Findlaw, a greater percentage of titles are updated only through January 5, 1999. Findlaw does not provide update references or an updating facility, but rather sends researchers to the U.S. Code Classification Tables at the U.S. House.


1. Keyword searching.

2. Title-section search boxes.

3. Click on “Browse the U.S. Code by Title Name” to launch the hypertext table of contents of Code titles at As with the Cornell and GPO versions, the researcher can click on parts then chapters, and then sections. The date of currency appears only on the Code section text display, not on earlier levels of the tables of contents. Thus, one will not know the date of currency until one reaches a Code title.

4. When one selects a title from the browsable Code, a keyword search box for that title is displayed at every content level (part, chapter, section menus, and Code section text).


Findlaw does not provide an updating facility. Rather, it provides a link to the U.S. Code Classification Tables for updating purposes. These currently cover 1999 to present, and so would not work for Title 36, which is current at Findlaw only through January 26, 1998. Because the Findlaw text is older than the U.S. House text, the researcher should follow instructions in Updating a United States Code Section Through the U.S. House Site. These instructions begin with searching the desired Code section again at the U.S. House site in order to get the most up-to-date text.


1. The Table of Names is similar to popular name table at Cornell. Some acts have hypertext links to the Code section where the law can be found. Links are not provided when an act is found in multiple locations in theCode. As with the Cornell table, neither public law numbers nor Statutes at Large Citations of the of the original or amending acts are included.

2. As at Cornell, notes (effective date, source, amendment history, etc.) are in a separate file. In the print version and in other electronic versions, these notes are at the end of the Code section.

3. As at the U.S. House and Cornell, the researcher may jump from a Code section to the next and previous Code sections. As at Cornell, when a Code section is displayed, one can click on the chapter and titles at the top of the document to go to the chapter or titles table of contents and move around in that way.

4. The display of Code section text and tables of contents pages is very annoying in one respect. The text displays over other text in the right-hand column.

5. Links to related resources on Findlaw are provided in the right-hand column. Unfortunately, they are often overlaid and obscured by the Code section text display.


NOTE: The author could not find a help screen for the search language, and e-mails to Findlaw did not produce any help, so the following is based on trial and error.

1. Phrase: “toxic substance”

2. Truncation: substanc* “toxic substance”*

3. Code section: Use the title-section boxes or the browsable version to find the desired code section.

4. Hits (search results) displayed: no limit given. Neither is the number of search results displayed anywhere. Ten results are displayed on each page. One must click on “Next” on the bottom of each result page until the final page is reached in order to learn how many hits were returned.

5. The method used to rank search results is unclear.

V. Updating a United States Code Section Through the U.S. House Site.

The U.S. House, which supplies the Code to the other sites, will obviously be the first to update its database. The U.S. House also provides the U.S. Code Classification Tables on which the updating facilities at all three sites are based. Therefore, it makes sense to search and update (retrieve references to amending laws) a Code section at the U.S. House site, even if the Code section was first identified at another site. In this way, the researcher will know he/she is getting the most current compilation available at the three sites.

A. Retrieve a Code section and update file at the U.S. House.

1. Search any of the Code versions (U.S. HouseCornellGPO AccessFindlaw) described above to identify a desired Code section. You may want to take advantage of one of the useful search forms at the U.S. House, Cornell, or Findlaw; the Cornell or GPO Access hypertext table of contents of Code titles; the unusual Cornell keyword search engine; or the more traditional keyword search capabilities at the other sites.

2. Search for your Code section, for example 20 U.S.C. sec. 1106, at the U.S. House site. Go to the USC search page, You will see a search form which allows you to enter title, section, part, chapter, etc., as well as keywords. Enter the title number, i.e. 20, and section number, i.e. 1106 (use truncation here, i.e. 1106*, if you wish to pull up 1106, 1106a, 1106b, etc.) in the appropriate boxes and click on “Search.” If you do not truncate, you will retrieve only the one Code text document and, if there have been subsequent amendments, an update file with references to those amendments.

3. Display the text for that Code section (example). View the full document and download or print as needed.

4. Then go back and select the update file for that Code section (example). An update document for a given Code section lists the public law numbers and sections and the Statutes at Large citations of amending laws enacted after the date of currency of the last annual cumulative supplement incorporated into the Code. Print or download the update file as needed. If no update file was returned, then no laws were enacted that affected your Code section during the period of time covered by the update files.

5. Verify the currentness of the references in the update files against the U.S. Code Classification Tables which the House also provides. You may access the Classification Tables by clicking on the link to the Classification Tables on the USC search page or on the top or bottom of any U.S. Code page. The update files are generally current through the date given both on 1) the About the Office and the United States Code page and on 2) the Classification Tables themselves. Although the update files are generally current to the same law and date as the most recent classification table, they may not always be that current. That is because the Classification Tables are loaded first, and there may be a time gap before the update file enhancements are completed. So, to verify that the newest additions to the tables have been added to the update files, do the following:

a. Go to the Classification Tables page.

b. Go to the classification table for the most recent session of Congress. To do that, on the Classification tables page, you will see boxes for each year from 1999. In each box, you have two links: “Sorted in Public Law order” and “Sorted in U.S. Code order.” In the box for the most recent session of Congress (currently 107th Congress), click on “Sorted in U.S. Code order.”

c. Look up your Code title and section in the table (example: 107th Congress, First Session) and compare your update file references. If they are identical, you have verified that the newest additions to the tables have been added to the update files. Otherwise, use the references which you identified from the table in the next stage of updating.

B. Locate the updating public laws on the Web.

At this point, you need your list of updating citations for your Code section. This is the U.S. House update file verified against the appropriate U.S. House U.S. Code Classification Table(s) as explained in VA5).

1. Determine from your update references which public law files you need to access (i.e. 106th Congress, 107th Congress).

2. Access the GPO Access public laws search page The public laws at GPO Access are official slip laws(15) to which Code section references and Statutes at Large page numbers have been added. GPO Access provides both text and PDF(16) versions. The slip laws (PDF version) look exactly as they will look as printed slip laws (pamphlet format) and when printed in Statutes at Large, which binds together U.S. public laws in the order in which they became law. Be aware that both the printed slip laws and the GPO Access slip laws are official sources.(17) (Example of slip law: Text — PDF).

3. Go to “Catalogs of available public laws”. Click on “106th Congress” or “107th Congress” as needed. Select the Text or PDF (same appearance as published in print) file of each desired public law on your update list.(18)

4. Find your U.S. Code citation in each public law on the list. You may use the search/find function on your Web browser to find a specific Statutes at Large page or the U.S. Code section reference. NOTE: In slip laws, some Code citations contain the abbreviation “U.S.C.” with periods after each letter and others use “USC” without periods. It’s necessary to search for both forms. HINT: First find the Statutes at Large page number (easiest in the PDF version). Then look for the USC (or U.S.C.) cite.

That will bring you up to date through the currency of the U.S. House update files and the Code Classification Tables.

C. Search Slip Laws to Find More Recent Amendments.

1. Determine whether there are any GPO Access slip laws more current (enacted in the last month or two) than those listed in the U.S. House Code Classification Tables. Often there will not be any. Go to the GPO Access Public Laws search page Click on “107th Congress” under “Catalog of available public laws” and check to see whether there are any slip laws newer than those covered in the U.S. House Code Classification Table for the 107th Congress.

2. If there are any newer laws, locate your Code section in them. To do this, you have a choice:

2a. Search each new law individually (example of slip law: Text — PDF). You probably will not find more than a few new laws, so this may be the simplest approach. For each bill enacted after the last public law covered in the U.S. Code Classification Table, search the slip law text file with the search/find command on your Web browser.


2b. Search all laws at once. On the public laws search page, highlight Public Laws (107th). Then, in the search box, enter a query using the following pattern to make sure you retrieve all the relevant public laws: “7 usc 2011*” OR “7 u.s.c. 2011*“. (Connect the phrases with a capital OR.) Look for public law numbers enacted after the date of the House of Representatives update files or U.S. Code Classification Table. Reminder: U.S. Code section citations in slip laws may contain “U.S.C.” and/or “USC”.

D. Search for Very Recent Enactments.

Follow this step if you desire to look for laws which may have been enacted in the last few days since the last slip laws were loaded into the GPO Access public law files. Usually there are no more than a few laws in this category.

1. Go to Thomas in order to search the bills of the 107th Congress. This bill file is often more up to date than the corresponding file on GPO Access and offers more search options.

WARNING: Since you are looking for laws not yet available in slip law format, you will be searching enrolled bills (example of enrolled bill: PDF). An enrolled bill is the final version of the bill that was sent to the President. It has not received the enhancements of a slip law. Thus, it will not have the added USC cites and Statutes at Large references. As a result, a Code section search in an enrolled bill will not be as precise as in a slip law. Therefore, you may want to do a subject or keyword search in addition to a Code section search.

2. On Thomas, there are three search possibilities:

a. You may click on “Public Laws by Law Number: 107th” or go to There you can select each law not in the U.S. House U.S. Code Classification Table or on GPO Access in slip law format and search each separately with your browser. Since you will usually not find many, this may be the easiest approach. Click on the bill number range, i.e. 107- – 107-22. You will retrieve a list of laws with summary and status information. For each public law you need, click on the bill number to display the Bill Summary & Status page.

b. You may search the full-text of bills in the 107th Congress Bill Text file. From the Thomas home page, click on “Bill Text: 107th” or go to There you may search by keyword or by subject heading. Limit your search to enrolled bills. Remember that an enrolled bill may or may not have been signed or vetoed by the President. Look for a public law number.

In this case, a list of bills with links to the enrolled bill text will be returned. click on the bill number to display the enrolled bill. Then click on “Bill Summary & Status” (near the top of the page). At the top of the Bill Summary & Status page for that bill, look for a public law number. Select the public laws having numbers greater than those in the GPO Access slip law file.

c. You may search bill summaries (not full-text of the whole bill) on the 107th Congress Bill Summary and Status. Click on “Bill Summary & Status” on the Thomas home page or go to You may search by keyword, subject term, sponsor, and/or committee. There you may limit your search to bills which have passed any of about thirty stages in the legislative process, including enrolled bills and public laws. In the “Stage in Legislative Process” box, highlight “PUBLIC LAW (ALL PUBLIC LAWS)”.

A list of public laws with summary and status information will be returned. The public law number is given with the status information and a link to the Bill Summary & Status page for that bill. If only one public law is identified, the Bill Summary and Status page for that law will be displayed. Select the public law only if its number is higher than those in the GPO Access slip law file.

3. Locate the text of the enrolled bill. On the Bill Summary & Status page, which you accessed in step 2a, b, or c, you may see links at the top to Text and PDF forms of the slip law. Because the slip law has not been loaded at GPO Access, these links will not work. Therefore, scroll down the page to “Text of Legislation.” Click on that link to go to the enrolled form of the bill.

E. Effective date. You may feel it important to know the effective date of an amendment (example: Text — PDF). This information is easily found in Code section notes for public law provisions that have been compiled into the Code. However, in an amending public law that has not yet been codified, you must search the law for it. That would apply to any of the laws–slip law or enrolled bill format–found in steps V B, C, and D above. Sometimes, for instance, an effective date stated in a public law section applies to more than one Code section.

VI. Commercial U.S. Code Products

Three vendors offer subscriptions to unofficial current U.S. Code cumulations. They are: Legal Content Incorporated (LCI)Quicklaw America, and They advertise cumulations that include even the most recently enacted laws.

WESTLAW offers the United States Code Annotated (USCA) , and LEXIS-NEXIS offers the United States Code Service (USCS). Both services provide annotations, which may include citing cases, law review articles, and legal encyclopedia articles. As part of their updating facilities, both provide links from a Code section to amending public laws. As of this writing, WESTLAW’s cumulation is current to December 29, 2000. It’s updating laws are current through May 28, 2001. LEXIS’ cumulation appears to be current through July 10, 2001, or within a month of currency. The user of either of these services should check the currency information found in the Code section document and in the users’ guide for the database.

Both WESTLAW and LEXIS/NEXIS allow non-subscribers to purchase many documents individually. Among the documents available are case law and U.S. Code sections. WESTLAW’s Westdoc service charges $10.00 for a USCA section or other document. LEXIS-NEXIS by Credit Card charges $9.00 for a document.

If you select any of these services, you will be able to consult V above to update them further.

VII. Conclusion

It is worth mentioning again that the researcher needs to check for currentness of the U.S. Code and the currentness of the update notes each time the Code is accessed.

The researcher should also remember that Web sites constantly change in other ways. Features, user interfaces, methods of updating, and search languages are all likely to be updated, enhanced, or added from time to time. Finally, the search language at each of these sites is somewhat different. If you wish to have more information on how to search, consult the help files at each site.

A final caveat: Although federal slip laws on the Web at GPO Access are official sources (see II. Legal Research … above), the United States Code on the Web is not. One is therefore advised to follow the warning at the U.S. House site and verify the Internet results with the printed U.S. Code, insofar as the corresponding print version has been issued.

The researcher who keeps all of this in mind and who uses the search strategy outlined above can take advantage of the fact that the Web offers both the least expensive way to search the United States Code and the most current updating information. 

1. Sally J. Kelley is Research Professor, librarian, and webmaster for the National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information, University of Arkansas School of Law. This article is a revised and updated version of Kelley, The United States Code on the World Wide Web: Where to Find It, Its Currency, and How to Update It, 1997 Ark L Notes 127-146, with the permission of Arkansas Law Notes. This revision also draws on Kelley, How to Search the Web’s United States Code, 4 Internet Lawyer (Oct. 1998) at 1, 4-5; Kelley, HOW TO … Use the Internet to Find and Update the United States Code; 7 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing 23-26 (1998); and Kelley, Legal Research on the Internet: A Primer and an Update to The United States Code on the Web, 1999 Ark L Notes 127-172.

2. The National Center for Agricultural Law Research and Information (NCALRI) Web (visited August 1, 2001) <> provides the researcher with an easy-to-navigate gateway to legal resources on the Internet. The NCALRI’s primary law page, Full-Text Laws, Cases, Regulations, Treaties (visited June 4, 1999) <>, was created to provide researchers with convenient access to sources of full-text federal, state, local, foreign, and international law on the World Wide Web, including links to all primary law sites mentioned in this article. In addition, researchers can use the Law by Subject section of this page to locate a variety of resources arranged by legal subject. The NCALRI General Law Sites (visited June 4, 1999) <> page provides links to megasites which are gateways to the whole range of legal resources on the Web. Other NCALRI pages focus on agricultural law, environmental law, international law, and government agencies.

3. Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-53, § 210, 109 Stat. 514, 533 (1995) requires that the Government Printing Office make “substantial progress toward maximum use of electronic information dissemination technologies.”

4. 44 U.S.C. § 4101 (1994), 1 C.F.R. § 5.10 (1998), 61 Fed. Reg. 68118 (1996), p. ii of every issue of the Federal Register since Jan. 2, 1997, and telephone conversations with Michael White, Director of Legal Affairs and Policy, Office of the Federal Register, U. S. National Archives and Records Administration on June 1, 1999 and April 27, 1998. Mr. White also confirmed that the Office of the Federal Register is working toward making all of its Internet publications, including the CFR, official sources, as well.

5. 1 U.S.C. § 113 (1994), and National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Federal Register, Federal Register Publications System, Public Laws (visited Aug. 1, 2001), <>.

6. Conversations with Michael White, supra note 3.

7. ABA Legal Technology Resource Center Uniform Citation Standards (visited Aug. 1, 2001) <>, AALL Citation Formats Committee (visited June 12, 1999) <>, and Lynn Foster, Medium Neutral Citation Form: It’s Here, 32 Ark. Law. 6, 6 (1997). See also draft Universal Citation Guide (1998) at <>.

8. See supra and ABA Legal Technology Resource Center Citations: Oklahoma (visited June 12, 1999) <>.

9. Bender & Co. v. West Publ’g Co., 158 F.3d 674 (3d Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 2039 (U.S. June 1, 1999) (No. 98-1519).

10. Whirlpool Financial Corp. v. GN Holdings, Inc., 67 F.3d 605, 610 (7th Cir. 1995). See also Kelley, Legal Researchsupra note 1 pp. 127-128 for articles citing this case.

11. 50 U.S.C. vii (Supp. V, Title 50, Popular Names & Tables, 1994 ed.); U.S. House Office of Law Revision Counsel, About the Office and the United States Code (visited Aug. 1, 2001) <>; and id.Codification Legislation (visited Aug. 1,2001) <>.

12. J. Myron Jacobstein et al., Fundamentals of Legal Research 160-61 (7th ed. 1998).

13. In GPO Access, use name (singular) or name*, but, at the U.S. House site, use names (plural) to search this table.

14. See supra note 12.

15. “The slip law is the official publication of the law and is admissible as evidence of the law in all courts of law (1 U.S.C. 113). … Before releasing a slip law for printing, OFR [Office of the Federal Register] editors add marginal notes, citations, and the legislative history … .” National Archives and Records Administration … United States Public Laws, supra note 5.

16. An Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to read PDF files. You may download a Reader free of charge at (visited June 2, 1999) <>.

17. 1 U.S.C. § 113 (1994) and National Archives and Records Administration … United States Public Laws, supra note 5.

18. Two other ways to locate GPO Access slip laws are: 1) On the GPO Access public laws search page, highlight “Public laws (107th).” Then enter into the search box a query using the following pattern “public law 107-20.” (Use quotation marks to show that this is a phrase.) 2) The U.S. House of Representatives USC home page provides a link to Thomas which is maintained by the Library of Congress. On the Thomas homepage, click on Public Laws: 107th Congress. Thomas public law files have links to both the Text and PDF versions of GPO Access slip laws, as well as enrolled bill and earlier bill versions.


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