Skip to main content
Introduction to Legislative History
Legislative history is becoming more important and relevant in legal research.
- Most statutes are clearly understandable or have a great deal of case law interpreting the statute to which attorneys can look for guidance in interpreting the statute. However, some statutes may have vague or ambiguous language and there is little or no case law available to provide interpretation. In these situations it is necessary to research legislative history to develop a legal argument.
- The purpose of legislative history is to determine the intent of the lawmakers at the time the law was created. If a statute is not clear on its face, the "Plain Meaning Rule" of statutory construction requires courts to look at documentation extrinsic to the statutory language to determine legislative intent.
- Legislative history may also be helpful to see why language was added to or removed from a statute. Even if the language is clear, knowing the reason for a change can help enhance a legal argument related to the statute.
- Before beginning a legislative history project, determine what (if anything) is available for the jurisdiction being researched. Federal statutes will generally have significantly more information available than state statutes. What is available from state to state varies greatly and some states do not provide any legislative history materials.
The rest of the information on this page will walk you through the steps of tracking down Illinois and Federal legislative histories.
Secondary Sources for Legislative History
Statutes and statutory construction
Call Number: KF 425 .S25 2007
Publication Date: 2007-
Also referred to as Sutherland on Statutory Construction.
How Our Laws are Made (PDF)
First published in 1953 by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, this 24th edition of ‘‘How Our Laws Are Made’’ reflects changes in congressional procedures since the 23rd edition, which was revised and updated in 2003. This edition was prepared by the Office of the Parliamentarian of the U.S. House of Representatives in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate.
© 2016 Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University. All rights reserved.