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Statutes and Constitutions Research: Finding Statutes

This guide provides information on U.S. statutes and constitutions and identifies pertinent print and online resources available through the NYU Law Library.

Finding Statutes

By Citation: If you already have a citation to a federal statute code section, you can go right to the text of that section in one of the print versions of the code.  The spine of each volume of the code will tell you what title(s) and section range(s) are included in that volume. Once you read your code section in the bound volume, check the pocket part or supplement for that volume to see if the code section has been amended.  You may also find the code sections using Westlaw, Lexis or one of the free sites such as the GPO Access website or the Office of Law Revision Counsel (see links in the United States Code box to the left)

By Popular Name: The print versions of the U.S. Code contain a "Popular Name" table at the end of the General Index if you do not know the citation (e.g. USA Patriot Act, Civil Rights Act).  There are also several online versions of the Popular Name index on the free sites such as the Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute's Table of Popular Names page, the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Counsel page.  You may also find statutes by Popular Name on Westlaw and Lexis.

By Topic: If you do not have a citation or name of a statute, and you didn't find what you were looking for using secondary source materials, the Federal Code also includes a subject index at the end of each set.  Both Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute's U.S.Code Collection as well as the U.S. House of Representatives' Search the United States Code database allow you to conduct a key word search of the federal code to find relevant code sections.  Keyword searching is also available on Westlaw and Lexis. USCCAN and Statutes at Large also contain subject indexes for each legislative session.

By Public Law Cite: Parallel Reference Tables, located in the Tables volumes of U.S.C., U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S. can be used to convert Public Law numbers and Statutes at Large cites to U.S.C. cites.  There are also tables in Statutes at Large and USCCAN to convert bill numbers to Public Law numbers.

By Full-Text Search: both Westlaw and Lexis allow for full-text searching in the statutory databases. If you are looking for statutes in a specific jurisdiction, start with the database containing that jurisdiction's statutory law.  It may be helpful to come up with a list of keywords relating to the topic you are researching prior to starting your search.    You can conduct searches in one of two ways:

   - Terms and Connectors: in a terms & connectors search, you use connectors such as "AND," "OR," and variations of "within" (e.g. w/p for within the same paragraph, w/s for within the same sentence) between the words and phrases that are relevant to your research.  

   - Natural Language: This is the more basic searching method in which you merely enter your relevant terms (without connectors).  It is recommended that you place quotation marks around exact phrases when doing a Natural Language search. You should also consider adding synonyms of the major keywords you are searching. 

Getting the most relevant statutory sections using full-text searching takes practice.  For training on effective full-text searching, please schedule a training session with the Westlaw and LexisNexis representatives.