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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Finding legal information: the absolute basics. : Statutes

How to find cases, laws and some other stuff. By Ellen Sexton.


The United States Constitution, the official one at the National Archives, with an easy to read transcipt, and the amendments.  

We have an excellent  Encyclopedia of the American Constitution    Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst, eds. 2nded. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000. 6 volumes. Printed volumes are kept at the Reference Desk on the upper floor of the library. 

States also have their own constitutions e.g. New York State Constitution. They can often be found posted on the official website for the state government.  Or go to Lexis-Nexis Academic

HeinOnLine's World Constitutions Illustrated has both the text of constitutions worldwide, including the United States, and background information, journal and news articles about each one.  A very powerful resource! 

Constitutions of some foreign countries may be found here, transcribed into English by the International Constitutional Law project.


The Library of Congress Thomas website has a good explanation of treaties, and links to where you can identify treaties, and where to see the full text of them at the Government Printing Office website (click the little plus sign to expand to the left of the congress you are interested in, then click to expand the senate-treaty-documents option).   

Hein OnLine

Hein OnLine is a legal database that has the full text of primary and secondary legal materials.  It is a very important tool for those researching the history of law.

Unlike the other legal databases, Hein OnLine contains historical legal documents e.g. the U.S. Statutes at Large from 1789-2008, the U.S. Federal legislative histories, the historical U.S. Code, and more. 

The full-text is in the form of PDF files - exact images of the original printed publications, so finding and citing a specific page is very easy. It contains the entire run of journals and law reviews - every volume, right back to the first year of publication.

Also notable are the entire runs, from volume one, of law review journals.  There are also international and overseas legal materials.

Our longer guide to law

The aim of this guide is to provide you with only the absolute bare essentials needed to start exploring legal information. To learn more, please do use our much longer Guide to legal resources in the Lloyd Sealy Library ... (2003).

NY State statutes

Finding Federal and State statutes

In the database Nexis Uni:  Use the search box.  Change the default "all" setting to narrow your search to statutes and legislation.  


In print format:

the United States Code (i.e federal statutes) is is published by the Government Printing Office in printed format every 6 years, and shelved in the Law Reference area at KF62.A2.  That's the south wing of the library, upper level.  The online, up-to-date version is here on the U.S. House of Representatives website.

New York state statutes are published in the black multivolume McKinney's consolidated laws of New York, shelved near the reference desk on the upper floor of the library.  The paperback indexes at the end of the set are invaulable for identifying which volume to go to.

Tracking federal legislation

A good short summary of the legislative process is posted on U.S. Congress website, with a much longer and detailed description here.

The govtrackUS site is a great place to start tracking a bill through Congress (and it keeps the score on what votes members cast).  Click on the Bills and Resolutions for current debates and legislation. (this is NOT an official government site).

The official Congressional website, Thomas, is a little harder to navigate around, but does provide up to date information about bills & their status here.   


Also of interest is the daily Congressional Record, which reports the days activities - it is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. 


For background and analysis, the privately published Congressional Quarterly Electronic Library is very good - you may find particulary interesting these periodicals: 

CQ Weekly. Great weekly source for congressional news.  Browse the table of contents for each week, search by subject, or see the latest votes cast. 

CQ Congress and the Nation.Good for "trends, actions and controversies".  Best searched by topic.

CQs Politics in America.  Good for information about members of Congress.

Finding state legislation

Finding state legislation has unique challenges because states have different types of legislatures (see below image from the National Conference of State Legislatures), different legislative processes and are free to decide how they will make information available.



Full- and Part-Time Legislatures


Depending on which state laws you are searching for, you will want to become familiar with that state's legislative website including the type of information they make available and how they make it available online.

As an alternative to using state legislative websites, you can also try using one of these freely available websites that aggregate state legislative information.  These websites provide a more uniform and user-friendly search experience and the ability to compare legislative activities across the states.


  3. (must register, but it is free)