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U.S. Constitution

Congressional Activity & Legislative Process

By Mike Wirth and Dr. Suzanne Cooper Guasco, WikiMedia Commons

This infographic was awarded first prize in the Sunlight Foundation “Design for America Competition” 2010. Accuracy was judged based on the details in How Our Laws Are Made - Learn About the Legislative Process.

The body of law created by acts of a legislature is Statutory law.  At the federal level the statutory laws are those acts passed by the United States Congress, comprised of two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

BILLS - introduced in a chamber of Congress and referred to committee


COMMITTEES - hold hearings and recommend passage (or not)

Committee membership

Congressional Record Daily Digest - summarizes committee activities


Hearing Transcripts

Committee Prints

Committee Reports


Floor - Debates & Voting

The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. The Congressional Record began publication in 1873.

Presidential - Approve or Veto


Once a bill is passed by Congress and signed by the President it becomes a Public Law (Pub. L.). There are also Private Laws (Priv. L.). Public laws relate to the general public, while private laws relate to specific institutions or individuals. Most of the laws passed by Congress are public laws.  The Public Law number is based on the Congress and when it was issued. Therefore, P.L. 105-18 would be the eighteenth law enacted in the 105th Congress. 

Public laws are first published as separate pamphlets called Slip Laws. Annually they are bound into the Statutes at Large in the order in which they were passed (chronological).

Eventually, the laws are organized by subject, indexed, and published in the United States Code (U.S.C.). This process is called codification. The current U.S. Code has 54 separately numbered titles. Each title contains laws specifically relating to that particular subject.

Public Laws (Pub. L.)

Statutes at Large (Stat.)

United States Code (U.S.C.)

  •  United States Code
    • Other citation abbreviations are USCA (U.S. Code Annotated, Westlaw) and USCS (U.S. Code Service, Lexis)

Other Sources

Positive law Titles: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, 51, and 54

  • When a title of the United State Code was enacted into positive law, the text of the title became legal evidence of the law. Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large still govern.

Historical Material and Legislative Histories

Other Resources


Most of these documents are available in print through the Federal Depository Library Program.


Research Databases

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