Skip to main content

 An Overview of Federal Law 



Federal Law

All three branches of the federal government produce law. The Legislative branch (Congress) produces statutory law. The Executive branch produces administrative law, or rules and regulations. The Judicial branch produces case law, which often interprets statutory law.

Legislative Branch

Bills: Bills are proposed legislation that may be introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate and are the first step in the process of making statutory law. They are numbered sequentially within each two-year session of Congress. Many bills never become law.

Bills for all sessions from the 103rd Congress on are available on the Internet through FDsys, and the Library of Congress Thomas web site.

Laws: After a bill has moved through both houses of Congress and been signed by the President, it becomes a law. It is first officially published as a slip law, a separately published law in an unbound, single-sheet or pamphlet form. A slip law is designated by a public law number indicating, first, the Congress in which it was enacted and, second, the chronological sequence of enactment within a given Congress, e.g. Public Law 104-28. Slip laws are available in the Reference Room at K U58 or on the Internet through FDsys.

United States Statutes at Large: This is the official publication of federal laws by session. All laws enacted by Congress in each session are chronologically arranged and are indexed by subject. Bailey Library has this series dating from 1937. Housed in Reference: K U58.

United States Code (USC): Federal laws that are currently in force are arranged in subject or topical order in the USC. Divided into 50 titles, or subject areas, and subdivided into chapters and sections, it is reissued every six years with annual, cumulative, bound supplements. It is available online through FDsys. The print version is housed in Reference: KF62 1994.A2.

U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN): This monthly pamphlet service from West Publishers prints the full text of public laws as they are enacted. Quicker than slip laws, USCCAN also includes legislative histories, executive orders and proclamations, federal regulations, court rules, and summaries of pending legislation. Each pamphlet has a cumulative index and tables to locate Code sections affected by recent legislation. The service also includes hard-bound annual volumes that reprint public laws in one section and legislative histories in the other. Housed in Reference: KF 48.

Executive Branch

When Congress passes a law, it delegates the authority to implement and regulate the law to the executive branch of government and its administrative agencies. The agencies create detailed rules, which provide procedures for the implementation and enforcement of the law.

Federal Register: Proposed rules and regulations appear first in the Federal Register, which is published Monday-Friday except federal holidays. Final rules and presidential documents (e.g. proclamations, executive orders) are also published here. Each issue includes finding aids such as an index of CFR parts affected for the current issue and the previous month. Available 1994-present through FDsys and in microform from 1936-present.

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): After rules become final, they are codified (that is, arranged by subject) and incorporated into the annually revised Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is divided into 50 titles, which are roughly analogous to the titles in the U.S. Code. Titles are divided into chapters, each for a particular agency. Chapters are divided into parts, which, in turn, are divided into sections, the basic unit of the CFR and a simple presentation of a single proposition. Available through FDsys and housed in Reference at KF70.A3.

List of Sections Affected (LSA): The LSA helps users of the CFR find amendments published in the Federal Register since the last revision of that title of the CFR. The LSA is published monthly and cumulates. Entries for rules are arranged numerically by CFR title, chapter, part and section and denote the change made. The LSA also contains finding aids, such as a Checklist of Current CFR Volumes and a Table of Federal Register Issue Pages and Dates. Available on microfiche.

The Federal Register: What It Is and How to Use It: The Office of the Federal Register of the National Archives and Records Administration has published this concise and useful guide to the Federal Register System, which will give you more detail about using these sources. Located in the third floor government documents department at: AE 2.108:F 31/2 GRD.

Federal Register Index: The Office of the Federal Register publishes a monthly index to the Federal Register. The index cumulates for previous months in that year, and the January-December index is also the annual index. Each issue of the Federal Register Index includes a table showing what page numbers appear in each daily issue of the Federal Register so far that year. Available on microform as part of the Federal Register.

CFR Index and Finding Aids: The official government-published index to the CFR provides a broad subject/agency index to the "Part" level and a Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules, which indicates if rules have been promulgated pursuant to specific legislation. Housed in Reference: KF70.A3 Index.

Judicial Branch

The U.S. legal system is basically a combination of case law and statutory law. Case law is the law as decided by previous court cases. To find case law at Bailey Library, use the legal research function of the Lexis-Nexis database that is linked from the home page.

United States Reports: This final bound edition of the Supreme Court decisions is issued annually and contains the official text of all opinions of the Supreme Court. Also included are tables of cases reported and cases and statutes cited and a subject index. Housed in Reference along with slip opinions and softbound preliminary compilations of opinions at: K.S9351.

Many opinions are also available through FDsys.

Hours of Operation*

7:45 a.m.-11 p.m.
Friday 7:45 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 1 p.m.-11 p.m.

*Service points close 15
minutes before closing time


Suggestion Box

Slippery Rock Digital Collections 

Slippery Rock University Archives Digital Collections