Statutory Research on Westlaw
10 Minute Training

10 Minute Training

Statutory Research

Legislative Process & History

At times you may want to trace legislation from the proposal of a bill to its placement in the federal or state statutory code. More often you will start with an enacted statute and research its legislative history to determine how the statute should be interpreted or applied. Both research tasks deal with the same process, just from different perspectives.

In this exercise, you will trace the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, commonly known as the USA Patriot Act, through the legislative process from proposal of the bill to codification in the USCA.

Step One Click Add/Remove tabs near the top of the screen.
Step Two Scroll down to Jurisdictional - Federal and select Legislative History - Fed. A graphic is displayed that traces the history of a bill to its enactment as a public law to its codification in the United States Code. If you click on any stage legislative history, a Search page with databases containing those materials is displayed.
Step Three Click Stage 11, President signs bill and it becomes law to retrieve documents discussing statements made by President Bush regarding the signing of the bill.
Step Four Type: "patriot act".
Step Five Check the boxes by Presidential Signing Statements, Presidential Messages, and White House Releases. Click Search Westlaw.

The results include transcripts of radio addresses, press releases, and press conferences.

Representatives Sensenbrenner and Oxley introduced the USA Patriot Act in the United States House of Representatives on October 23, 2001.

Step Six Click Directory on the toolbar near the top of the screen.
Step Seven Click U.S. Federal Materials, then Bill Tracking. Click Congressional Bills - 107th Congress. (The 107th Congress was in session in 2001.)
Step Eight Enter: ti(terroris!) & oxley & da(10/2001). Click Search Westlaw.
Step Ten Click Directory on the toolbar. Click U.S. Federal Materials, then Bill Tracking.
Step Eleven Click Bill Tracking - State & Federal Archives.
Step Twelve Type: ci(3162) & da(2001). Click Search Westlaw.
Step Thirteen Open the first document. Scroll down to see the history of the bill as it moved from introduction to passage by both houses of Congress and to its signing by the president.
Step Fourteen Scroll to the end of the document to find the Public Law Number. President Bush signed this legislation into law on October 26, 2001 as Public Law 107-56. The Patriot Act was the 56th act passed by the 107th Congress.
Step Fifteen Click Find&Print on the toolbar. Type: pl 107-56 in the Find this document text box in the left pane. Click GO.
Step Sixteen Scroll down through the Table of Contents to view the many subjects this bill addresses.

The public law was codified in the United States Code. Codification brings all laws on the same topic together, eliminates all repealed or expired statutes, and unites amendments with the original statute. A single public law can be codified in many sections of the code.

Step Seventeen Click Directory on the toolbar.
Step Eighteen Click Statutes under U.S. Federal Materials. Click U.S.C.A. Popular Name Table.
Step Nineteen Open the index document and click Edit Search at the top of the Result List tab in the left frame. Delete the pre-formulated search.
Step Twenty Type: "patriot act". Click Search Westlaw.
Step Twenty-one Open the first document.

The USCA-POP database is a great place to find federal statutes that are usually referred to by an informal name. Notice that the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, known as The Patriot Act, has a third name, Antiterrorism Act of 2001.

USCA-POP is also a great place to determine where a public law section has been codified in the United States Code Annotated. On the left you will see the sections numbers of the public law. On the right you will see where those sections have been codified in the USCA. Notice that The Patriot Act has been codified in Titles 50, 18, 31, 22, 8, 42, and 49 of the USCA.

This list contains only sections enacted by this Public Law. To retrieve all sections affected by this law, Click P.L. 107-56 at the end the sections enacted portion of this document. Scroll down this list to view the many USCA sections affected by The Patriot Act.

Step Twenty-two Click Cancel on the Link Viewer.

When courts attempt to interpret or apply a statute, they often look to the legislative history to determine the intent of the legislators when drafting the statute. What if you must argue the scope of §206 of The Patriot Act, which affects 50 U.S.C.A. 1805, dealing with electronic surveillance, is overbroad?

Step Twenty-three Click Find&Print on the toolbar. Enter 50 USCA 1805. Click GO.

The Links for tab in the left frame is a great resource for finding legislative history. Historical versions of the statute can be found under the Versions link and there is a Legislative History section, which may include Text Amendments, Editor's Notes, and Bill Drafts.

Step Twenty-four Scroll down and click Editor's Notes.

This section will include links to Public Laws, Senate and House Reports, Committee Reports, etc., as well as West editor's notes regarding important changes in the language from one stage of the legislation to the next.

Step Twenty-five Open House Conference Report No. 107-328 (2001) and Maximize this document. (Committee and conference reports often provide the most definitive evidence of legislative intent.)
Step Twenty-six Click Locate on the Link Viewer.
Step Twenty-seven Type: 1805. Click Locate.
Step Twenty-eight Click the right Term arrow to view the conference report's proposed changes to 50 USCA 1805 that were prompted by the events of 9/11.

Suppose you want to know how courts have interpreted section 215 (library records) of The Patriot Act.

Step Twenty-nine Click Directory.
Step Thirty Click Cases under U.S. Federal Materials. Click All Federal Cases.
Step Thirty-one Click Terms and Connectors if not already selected.
Step Thirty-two Enter: "patriot act" /s 215. Click Search Westlaw.
Step Thirty-three Open U.S. v. Kincade.
Step Thirty-four Click the right Term arrow. Notice the reference to House Report 107-236. The court has used language from the report to interpret section 206 of The Patriot Act.

Congratulations! You've completed Statutory Research: the Legislative Process and Legislative History, in which you traced the U.S.A. Patriot Act from its proposal as a bill to its codification in the USCA.

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