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Locate a U.S. Public Law: Getting Started

Information and resources for researching U.S. Public Laws.

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Legislative Numbers & Names

Public laws are numbered sequentially in the order that they are passed, beginning with the number one. In order to distinguish it from laws passed in other years, the law number is preceded by the number of the Congress in which it was passed. For example, Public Law 105-10 (also written Pub. L. 105-10) would be the tenth public law passed by the 105th Congress. If you are unsure of the time period, consult a Years-to-Congress table.

Like laws, bills are also numbered sequentially beginning with the number one but are preceded by an abbreviation indicating the chamber of origin, either the House of Representatives (H.R.) or Senate (S.). The year becomes extremely important in differentiating bills from one another, so when researching proposed legislation that did not pass, the date will be necessary to identify the correct bill number.

Each bill and public law is also assigned a name; for example, Pub. L. 111-148 is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. However, legislation often acquires shorter, popular names that are used colloquially or frequently in the media; for example, “Health Care Reform Bill” is a popular name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. An Internet search may be the quickest way to find the associated law or bill number if you are only familiar with the popular name. But there are also popular name tables included in several publications such as the United States Code, United States Code Annotated, United States Code Service, and Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name. Congress.gov also maintains a list of short and popular legislation titles from 1973-present (93rd Congress-present).

Locate a Public Law

Search or browse the resources on this page to locate a public law. 

GovInfo.gov and Congress.gov are useful resources for researching recent public laws. The Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code, listed below, can be used in conjunction with these resources. They can also be used to research public laws prior to 1973.

U.S. Statutes at Large

The U.S. Statutes at Large (Stat.) is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress, in chronological order. Volumes include a popular name table and a subject index. They do not include amendments to the law; it is the text of the law at the time of its passage. 

The U.S. Statutes at Large (Stat.) is the permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress, in chronological order. Volumes include a popular name table and a subject index. They do not include amendments to the law; it is the text of the law at the time of its passage. 

United States Code

Codification of laws passed by Congress are organized by subject in the U.S. Code. It includes amending legislation at the end of each section and describes changes over time. 

Codification of laws passed by Congress are organized by subject in the U.S. Code. It includes amending legislation at the end of each section and describes changes over time. 

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