Fundamentals of Legal Research
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Working With Federal Statutes
Both commercial versions of the United States Code have useful finding tools in addition to the text of the code. Once such tool is the descriptive word index that points the researcher to the relevant section of the code. When laws are passed, they have popular names such as the “Civil Rights Act of 1968.” Many times, these names will persist over time. By checking this against a table of popular names, the researcher can find the actual citation for the law. Modern search tools require that the researcher develop skills in identifying keywords and phrases. Most online codes will not have an index; thus keyword searches may be the only viable option.
Bluebook: Citing the United States Code
Unlike some state codes, individual Titles of the United States Code are not cited by name. All citations to the code use a numbering system. To cite the U.S. Code, begin with the number for the Title of the statute. This is followed by the abbreviation for the particular version of the code that the researcher is using. The abbreviation U.S.C. is most common because that is the official version of the code that must be cited in courts. Next comes the section symbol, followed by the section number. The year on the spine of the code volume follows this, placed in parentheses. Note that the date is not the year that the statute went into effect.
Example: 18 U.S.C. § 1201 (2015)
States vary widely in how citations should be formatted, and the abbreviations for the codebooks for each state will be unique to that state. A complete list of code citation forms can be found in Table 1 in the back of the Blue Book, and from many online sources. You can also examine court cases for the jurisdiction you are concerned about and mimic the citations you find there.
Example: Ark. Code § 1-2-113(c)
Modification History File Created: 08/08/2018 Last Modified: 06/13/2019
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