Research Guides

TMLL Research Guide - Chapter 10


There are three versions of the federal code that the researcher may consult. All three are organized by the same scheme of numbered titles. There are presently fifty such titles. Each number corresponds to a particular topic, e.g., Title 26 is the Internal Revenue Code.  All three versions contain, in addition to the text of the statutes, historical legislative information allowing the researcher to trace the evolution of the section through any amendments back to its original enactment.

United States Code (U.S.C.)

This is the official version of the federal statutes (published under government auspices.)  A new edition of the United States Code is issued every six years.  Each edition of the Code is updated annually by a bound supplement volume containing statutory amendments.  These supplements are cumulative, so each yearly supplement reflects all changes made since the last revised edition of the Code.  The U.S. Code is searchable through its subject index and by a table of "Popular Names.”  The U.S. Code is not as current as the other two versions because it does not issue supplementary pamphlets during the year to reflect legislative activity during the current session of Congress.  This version of the Code does not contain annotations to cases or other sources.  Therefore it is not as useful to researchers as the two commercially published versions listed below.  Although it is less frequently used as a research tool, the U.S. Code is the version the Bluebook requires when citing to a federal statute.  Only if a newly enacted or amended section is too recent to appear in the U.S. Code is it correct to cite to U.S.C.A. (the next in line of preference according to the Bluebook) or to U.S.C.S.  A number of Web sites contain all or parts of the United States Code.  Use caution as to their currency.

United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.)

Published by West, this version of the Code also includes the U.S. Constitution and several sets of court rules, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  U.S.C.A. has a multi-volume subject index published annually in paperbound format and Tables volumes.  Each title also has its own index.  U.S.C.A. is updated much more frequently than U.S.C. and by various means.  Each volume contains an annual pocket part or has a pamphlet supplement that updates the volume unless the volume has just been republished.  The supplements are further updated by quarterly pamphlets that cover the entire code set. U.S.C.A. contains extensive annotations to judicial materials, law reviews, treatises, and practice materials.  When many cases appear, they are organized in "Notes" with their own mini-index. U.S.C.A. also contains references to applicable West Digest topics and key numbers.  Available on Westlaw.

United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.)

Published by Lexis Law Publishing and like U.S.C.A., U.S.C.S. contains federal statutes, the Constitution, and procedural rules.  U.S.C.S. has an annual multi-volume subject index and Tables volumes.  Each title also contains its own index.  U.S.C.S. is updated by annual pocket parts, quarterly cumulative supplements, and a monthly advance service pamphlet with new legislation and annotations. U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S. are roughly comparable in currency.  U.S.C.S. includes annotations to judicial and administrative decisions, organized by sub-topic under the heading "Interpretive Notes and Decisions."  U.S.C.S. also includes references to A.L.R., Am. Jur. 2d, and law reviews, treatises and practice materials. Available on Lexis.

Which version to choose?

For currency and access to annotations, U.S.C.S. or U.S.C.A. are better choices than U.S.C. It is, however, necessary to consult U.S.C. to obtain citation information before finalizing a written draft.  Since each annotated version may contain references to sources which do not appear in the other, the student researcher may wish to consult both if available. Usually the "real-life" researcher will not have access to both print versions of the annotated codes; therefore it is a good idea while in law school to establish some familiarity with both.

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