Skip to Main Content

Federal Legislative History

An overview of how to search for compiled federal legislative histories and other Congressional documents

Where Can I Find Congressional Documents?

If a compiled history does not exist, you can compile your own for a bill or law. To do so:

  1. Identify the bill number.
  2. Find a bill history (also referred to as bill track or bill status) and any accompanying reports or transcripts.
  3. Compile all the congressional documents you find.

You can also view our "Sources for Legislative History Documents" handout:

  • Find bill summaries and statutes information. Coverage 93rd Congress (1973) to present. 
  • Congressional Record Index for bills between 1789 and 1972, consult this and its predecessors, the Congressional Globe, Register of Debates, and Annals of Congress. Microfiche Room Cabinets 10-11.
  • Lexis Advance: from 1989 to the present.
  • Westlaw: from 1991 to the present. 
  • C-Span Congressional Chronicle:  Track bill history and link to video of corresponding floor debate from 1987 to present.

The full text of bills is available from several different sources, depending on the date of the bill and the format required. 

Committee reports summarize the action that a committee took on a bill, and committee reports are often thought of as the most useful documents for identifying legislative intent. A special committee called the conference committee is composed of member of the House and Senate and is used to reconcile the differences between bills passed in each chamber.

  • ProQuest Congressional
    • Select Serial Set for 1789-2003 (full text) (limit search to year or Congress)
    • Select House & Senate Reports for 1990-present (full text)(limit search to year or Congress)  
  • 104th Congress (1995) to  present
  • GovInfo:104th Congress (1995) to  present
  • Westlaw:(LH). Selected committee reports from USCCAN from 1948 to present. All committee reports from 1990 to present.
  • Lexis Advance: (CMTRPT). 101St Congress, 2d Sess. (1990) to present (select coverage 101st and 102nd Congresses).
  • American Memory Project:  A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: 23rd-64th Congress (1833-1917). Includes select committee reports.

Floor Debate is published in the Congressional Record. Predecessors to the Congressional Record are: Congressional Globe (1833-1873), Register of Debates in Congress (1825-1837) Annals of the Congress of the United States (1789-1824). 

  • ProQuest Congressional
    • Congressional Record (1873-2005)
    • Congressional Record Daily (1985-present)
    • Predecessors to Congressional Record (complete)
  • HeinOnline
    • Congressional Record (1873-2011) 
    • Congressional Record Daily (1980-)
    • Predecessors to Congressional Record (complete)
  • Congress (1995) to present (Daily Edition)   
  • GovInfo:103rd Congress (1994) to present (Daily Edition) (1999-2001 Bound Edition)
  • LexisAdvance: (RECORD-for combined Congresses). 105th Congress (1985) to the present  
  • Westlaw: (CR) 1985 to present
  • C-Span Congressional Chronicle: Videos of House and Senate floor proceedings matched to text of Congressional record (1987-)

Committee hearings can be one of the most elusive Congressional documents to locate.  The time between the event and its publication can be months or even years. Before the hearing is officially printed, you may be able to obtain hearing materials from the committee itself. 

  • GovINfo: 99th Congress (1995) to present. Selected hearings, browse-able by session of Committee.
  • ProQuest Congressional: 1824 to present (unpublished hearings House 1973-1982, Senate 1985-1992). 
  • HeinOnline: Hearings in PDF from 1927 to 2012.  
  • Microfiche: Between 1965 and 1996, hearings are available in microfiche.  Microfiche Room, Law Library First Floor, Cabinets 9-11. 
  • Congressional Information Service Index: is a finding tool for hearings issued after 1969. Law Library Fourth Floor Range 408.
  • Westlaw: Selected coverage of hearing transcripts only (not official hearings) since 1993.
  • Lexis Advance: Selected coverage of hearing transcripts only (not official hearings) since 1988. 
  • Law Library of Congress. Hearings older than 1965 must be obtained in person here.

CRS is part of the Library of Congress. Its staff provides Congress with objective research and analysis on public policy issues. While not indicative of legislative intent, CRS reports are nonetheless an excellent source for topical analysis.