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Federal Laws

The following is a collection of links to free sources of legal information on the Web. Not all laws are available for free online. The law library has many additional resources in print. If you cannot find what you are looking for, please Call or email us.

Constitutional resources
Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc.

Legislative Branch/Congressional resources
Statutes, Bills, etc.

Executive Branch resources
Administrative Rules, Executive Orders, etc.

Judicial Branch/Court resources
Supreme Court, Ninth Circuit, District of Montana, Montana Bankruptcy Court

United States Constitution

The United States Constitution was written by a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen original states inPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 1787. It is the primary legal document of the United States and the oldest Federal constitution in existence anywhere in the world. It defines the structure of the federal government and guarantees certain rights to its citizens.

Legislative Branch – Congress

The legislative branch, also known as the United States Congress, is the branch of government that is generally responsible for making the laws of the country by introducing bills and enacting statutes on various topics. Congress is divided into two houses: the Senate, which is made up of 100 members (2 from each state, regardless of population or area), and the House of Representatives, which consists of 435 members (apportioned by state population).

 

  • United States Code (U.S.C.)
    Collection of laws or statutes passed by Congress, arranged by topic into 50 “titles” or subject headings. The United States Code is reprinted every 6 years and was last published in 2000. In between printings, the government publishes annual supplements. This site provides access to the 2000 United States Code and the Second Supplement to the 2000 edition. It also provides access to the 1994 Code and its supplements.

    To find out whether the Code section that you are looking at is still good law, check this table to find references to Public Laws that have amended or repealed your section.

  • Public Laws (Pub. L.)
    Before a new law is printed in the United States Code, it is first assigned a Public Law number and, at the end of each congressional session, collected and printed in a book called the Statutes at Large. These Public Law numbers indicate the session of the Congress that passed the bill and the chronological number of the bill within that session (for example, P.L. 108-12 was the 12th bill signed into law during the 108th session of Congress). This site provides access to Public Laws enacted since 1995 (104th Congress) in .pdf format and .html format. The .pdf document is a copy of the version found in the Statutes at Large.

     

  • Bills and Resolutions (H.R., S.)/Bill Tracking Information
    After a bill is proposed by a legislator, it is printed and assigned a bill number and referred to a Committee for further study. The Committee may hold hearings on the bill, or may refer it to a Subcommittee for further study and hearings there. If the Committee decides to recommend that the bill be passed, the full House or Senate (the Committee of the Whole) will consider the bill. If it is passed by one house of Congress, it is then passed to the second house for consideration and the process is repeated. Once both houses agree on the language of a bill, it is sent to the President. The President may approve the bill by signing it, may allow the bill to become law without his signature by allowing 10 days to pass without returning the bill, or may veto it. (If the President vetoes a bill, it becomes law only if it is re-passed by a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress).

     

    • Official Bill Information from Thomas
      This is the official website of Congress. It provides the full text of bills introduced by either house of Congress since 1989 (101st Congress). Also provides information on the status of bills introduced since 1973 (93rd Congress).
       
    • Bill Information and Tracking from GovTrack
      This site is not an official government website, although it states that the information it provides is gathered from Thomas. It provides the full text and status of bills introduced since 1999 (106th Congress). It also allows you to monitor pending bills (by number or by subject) and to monitor how particular members of Congress vote.
  • Legislative History of Federal Statutes
    • Committee Reports (S. Rep. No., H.R. Rep. No.)
      After a bill is introduced in either the Senate or House, it is assigned a bill number and referred to a Committee for further study. The Committee may hold hearings on the bill, or may refer it to a Subcommittee for further study and hearings there. If the Committee decides to recommend that the bill be passed, either with or without amendments, the Committee will write a report about their recommendation. The report usually describes and analyzes the purpose and scope of the proposed law. If amendments are recommended, it may also contain a copy of the amended version of the bill and an explanation of why the amendments were made. A Committee report is generally considered the most important document for determining legislative intent. This site provides access to Committee reports issued since 1995 (104th Congress).

       

    • Committee Hearings
      Information on selected Committee hearing schedules and copies of selected written witness statements and transcripts of public hearings. Also provides links to Committee websites, which may contain additional materials.

       

    • Committee Prints(H.R. Prt., S. Prt.)
      Prints include documents prepared for the Committee, such as reports or studies by outside experts or committee staff members, and member statements on pending bills. This site provides access to selected Committee Prints. Also provides links to Committee website, which may contain additional materials.

       

    • Congressional Record (Cong. Rec.)
      Daily recording of Congressional debates, proceedings, and activities that occur on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Provides a verbatim transcript of floor debates (subject to subsequent revisions and additions by individual legislators). This site provides access to the Congressional Record dating back to 1991 (101st Congress).

       

    • Presidential Signing/Veto Statements
      After a bill is passed by both houses of Congress, the President may approve the bill by signing it, may allow the bill to become law without his signature by allowing 10 days to pass without returning the bill, or may veto it. (If the President vetoes a bill, it becomes law only if it is re-passed by a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress). When the President signs or vetoes a law, he or she may write a statement or message to Congress regarding the law. These statements are printed in the Congressional Record and here, in a document called the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents. This site provides access to Presidential documents dating back to 1993 (103rd Congress). 

    Executive Branch – President and Administrative Agencies

    The executive branch is the branch of government that is generally in charge of implementing and enforcing the laws passed by Congress. The executive branch is made up of various administrative agencies, each with a different area of specialization, and the President and his or her Cabinet. The executive branch “fleshes out” the statutes by creating highly detailed, specific rules and regulations that tell people how to comply with the law. Many administrative agencies also have the ability to determine whether citizens are complying with their rules and regulations. They can issue and revoke licenses and fine citizens who do not comply with the law. The official website of the current administration is http://www.whitehouse.gov. Click here for a list of all federal agencies and links to their websites.

    • Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.)
      Collection of rules made by federal departments and agencies, arranged by subject. The C.F.R. is updated annually. To determine whether a rule has been amended since the C.F.R. was last published, you will need to check the List of Sections Affected, a table that provides cross-references to the Federal Register of changes to regulations, for each month since the last C.F.R. publication. This site provides access to the C.F.R. dating back to 1994.

       

    • Federal Register (F.R.)
      The Federal Register is published daily and contains notices of proposed administrative rules and notices of final rules and amendments to rules created by various executive departments and agencies. Also contains Presidential documents, including Executive Orders and Proclamations. Online version contains rules published since 1994 (Volume 59).

       

    • Online Submission of Comments on Federal Rules
      This site allows you to review the rules that have been proposed by various departments and agencies, read comments submitted by other interested people and organizations, and submit comments yourself.

       

    • Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents
      Provides access to Presidential speeches and remarks, messages to Congress, Executive Orders, Proclamations, appointments and nominations, and meetings with foreign leaders dating back to 1993.

       

    • Executive Orders of the President
      An Executive Order is a legally binding action or statement by the President as the head of the Executive Branch. Executive Orders usually are directed to administrative agencies or department heads.

       

    • Presidential Proclamations
      A Proclamation is an official public statement by the President, usually regarding ceremonial duties. 

       

    • Presidential Signing/Veto Statements
      After a bill is passed by both houses of Congress, the President may approve the bill by signing it, may allow the bill to become law without his signature by allowing 10 days to pass without returning the bill, or may veto it. (If the President vetoes a bill, it becomes law only if it is re-passed by a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress). When the President signs or vetoes a law, he or she may write a statement or message to Congress regarding the law. These statements are printed in the Congressional Record and the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents. This site provides access to Presidential documents dating back to 1993 (103rd Congress).

    Judicial Branch – United States Courts

    The Judicial Branch or the United States Court system is the branch of government generally in charge of applying the law to the facts of specific cases in order to decide disputes between citizens and disagreements between citizens and the government. The federal courts can decide cases that involve interpretations of the United States Constitution and other federal laws, such as federal statutes and regulations, and disputes between the states or between the United States and foreign governments. The federal courts also have the authorization to decide certain cases between citizens of different states, even if those cases do not raise federal issues. The court system includes both trial courts, the United States District Courts, which hear evidence and decide the facts of a case, and two levels of appellate courts. The Circuit Courts of Appeals decide appeals of trial court decisions on legal questions and appeals of many regulatory decisions made by administrative agencies. The United States Supreme Court generally decides appeals of decisions of the various Courts of Appeals. The decisions of the Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court are published and are widely available; however, only selected trial court decisions are published and you may need to contact the Clerk of Court for the District Court where the case was filed and tried in order to obtain a copy of a particular decision. For more general information about the federal court system, visit the Federal Judicial Center or the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

  • United States Supreme Court

     

    • U.S. Supreme Court website
      Includes information on the current term and the upcoming term, including dockets, calendars, oral argument transcripts, briefs, and opinions and orders.

       

    • U.S. Supreme Court Opinions (U.S., S. Ct., L. Ed.)
      An opinion is a written statement that explains the reasons for the Court's decision in a case. There are many free online sources of U.S. Supreme Court opinions online. This site provides free access to U.S. Supreme Court cases dating back to 1790. (Note: this site requires free registration in order to search the opinions). You can find a case by citation or search the database using keywords for your question.

       

    • U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
      A brief is a written argument submitted by a party to an appeal that explains why that party should win. There are several free online sources of U.S. Supreme Court briefs online. This site provides free access to U.S. Supreme Court briefs dating back to 1999, arranged by Supreme Court term and alphabetically by case name.

      For briefs submitted in famous historical Supreme Court cases, try Yale's Curiae Project.

    • Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States
      Explain the process that the parties must follow in appeals and original proceedings in the Supreme Court.

       

  • Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hears appeals of cases originally decided in the federal District Courts in Montana, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

     

    • Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals website
       Includes information on contacting the court, cases currently pending before the court, court rules, and procedures.

       

    • Opinions
      An opinion is a written statement that explains the reasons for the court's decision in a case. There are many free online sources of Ninth Circuit opinions online.
      • Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Opinions
        • Official Source of Ninth Circuit opinions (9th. Cir.)
          This is the official website of the Ninth Circuit. This site provides copies of opinions dating back to 1995, arranged by date or docket number. This site does not offer a search engine that allows you to search the full-text of opinions.
        • Ninth Circuit opinions, full-text search (9th Cir.)
          This unofficial site provides free access to Ninth Circuit opinions dating back to 1996. You can search the opinions by name, date, docket number, or keyword.

         

      • Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel decisions (BAP)
        Provides Bankruptcy Appellate Panel decisions dating back to 2002. Arranged by date, debtor's name, or docket number.

         

    • Court Rules
    • Research Aids
      • Ninth Circuit Standards of Review Outline
        Provides short explanations of the standards applied by the Ninth Circuit when reviewing different kinds of cases (criminal, civil, administrative appeals) and citations to Ninth Circuit cases that have applied those standards. Written by the Ninth Circuit staff attorneys' office, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated September 2004.
      • Ninth Circuit Immigration Law Outline
        Provides a general explanation of various immigration law issues with annotated references to Ninth Circuit cases. Written by the Ninth Circuit staff attorneys' office, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated May 2005 (does not include the REAL ID Act).
      • Ninth Circuit Capital Punishment Handbook
        Provides a general explanation of various capital punishment issues with annotated references to Ninth Circuit capital habeas cases. Not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated March 1, 2004.
      • Ninth Circuit Manual on Jury Trial Procedures
        Provides a general explanation of various issues that occur during jury trials with annotated references to Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court cases. Prepared by the Ninth Circuit Jury Instructions Committee, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated August 2004. 

         

  • United States District Court for the District of Montana
    The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Court is the trial court that hears federal cases throughout the state of Montana. The Montana U.S. District Court hears cases that involve interpretations of the United States Constitution and other federal laws, such as federal statutes and regulations. The Montana U.S. District Court is also authorized to decide certain cases between Montana residents and citizens of different states, even if those cases do not raise federal issues. For information on the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Montana, see below.

     

    • United States District Court for the District of Montana website
      Provides contact information for court staff, access to court calendar, and links to common district court forms.

       

    • Opinions & Orders
      An opinion is a written statement that explains the reasons for the court’s decision in a case. An order is a short description of a court’s decision, often a preliminary decision, in a case. Currently, very few federal District Court opinions are posted online for free. This site provides access to selected opinions and orders in a few current, notable cases.

       

    • Court Rules
      Court rules explain the procedure to be followed in various courts, including what format paperwork should be submitted in, how to schedule hearings, and how hearings and trials will proceed. A court may be governed by several different sets of rules.
    • Jury Instructions
    • Research Aids
      • Ninth Circuit Standards of Review Outline
        Provides short explanations of the standards applied by the Ninth Circuit when reviewing different kinds of cases (criminal, civil, administrative appeals) and citations to Ninth Circuit cases that have applied those standards. Written by the Ninth Circuit staff attorneys’ office, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated September 2004.
      • Ninth Circuit Immigration Law Outline
        Provides a general explanation of various immigration law issues with annotated references to Ninth Circuit cases. Written by the Ninth Circuit staff attorneys’ office, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated May 2005 (does not include the REAL ID Act).
      • Ninth Circuit Capital Punishment Handbook
        Provides a general explanation of various capital punishment issues with annotated references to Ninth Circuit capital habeas cases. Not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated March 1, 2004.
      • Ninth Circuit Manual on Jury Trial Procedures
        Provides a general explanation of various issues that occur during jury trials with annotated references to Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court cases. Prepared by the Ninth Circuit Jury Instructions Committee, but not an official statement of the Ninth Circuit. Last updated August 2004.

         

  • United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Montana
    Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases, and these cases cannot be filed in state court. Each of the federal judicial districts handles bankruptcy matters through a separate bankruptcy court within that district.