Thursday, May 4, 2017

Legislative History Without Research?

Occasionally an attorney may find herself with a unique problem. She is litigating a matter which involves the interpretation of an ambiguous statute and there is not a case on point which has resolved this issue. This may be the time to engage in legislative history research. This type of research attempts to resolve statutory ambiguities by investigating the documents produced during the legislative process such as bill versions, committee reports, floor debates, and others. The Law Library has prepared a guide about how to do legislative history research.

But what if you didn’t have to do the research? If you find yourself in a situation where legislative history research might be beneficial and you could just have the results of such a search without having to go through the process? Well, that might be a possibility.

Precompiled legislative histories are exactly what they sound like. Someone has gone through the legislative history process with certain laws and recorded the results. The Law Library has a few sources which have precompiled legislative histories so checking these should be your first steps in doing this kind of research. Note, both resources discussed below cover federal legislative histories.

HeinOnline


To navigate to these resources, from the School of Law front page go to Law Library, then Databases, then HeinOnline Databases, then the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library.
From this page, one can search through the alphabetical title list, public law numbers, or popular names. One could also click on “Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories.  This will give you a search function as well as the Browse by Congress option.
HeinOnline’s legislative history of the USA PATRIOT Act contains 106 documents which are compiled in five volumes as PDFs. By selecting one of the volumes one can navigate the document through the table of contents on the left of this screen. One can also search within the documents contained in the title by clicking on the search icon. For instance, searching “Osama” in “this title” results in 33 hits.


ProQuest Legislative Insight


ProQuest is different than HeinOnline for legislative histories.  This is because ProQuest Legislative Insight is a dedicated place to find legislative histories. Also, ProQuest produces the legislative histories itself rather than republishing the work of others as HeinOnline does. Thus, ProQuest is probably the best source for precompiled legislative histories. To navigate to ProQuest Legislative Insight from the School of Law front page go to Law Library, then Databases, then P, then ProQuest Legislative Insight.

Legislative Insight provides several access points to help you find a legislative history. First, you can search popular names or alternatively select a popular name from a drop down menu. Using the citation checker allows you to enter a Public Law number, Statutes at Large Citation, or a Bill Number and it will return the other two items and tell you whether the item you entered has a precompiled legislative history. You can also browse by Congress or search by subject.

By searching for “USA PATRIOT Act” in the popular names list I was able to get a list of seventeen possible legislative histories. I further limited this list to the 107th Congress because I knew the PATRIOT Act was passed in 2001.  Here we see the legislative history we seek, for Pub. Law 107-56.
This legislative history contains 184 documents. One can use the search box pictured to search for terms in all of the documents in the legislative history. Searching for “Osama” results in 26 hits. Like HeinOnline, ProQuest provides its content through downloadable pdfs.

Conclusion


Should you find yourself in need of the legislative history related to a federal statute, do yourself a favor and see if there is a precompiled legislative history either on HeinOnline or ProQuest Legislative Insight. You could save yourself a lot of effort.