Primary Federal Law

There are many free sources of Federal law.  For each type of federal law,  we provide a description, the “best” source (bearing in mind that research is an individual process and you may find that you prefer one source over another) as well as other options for accessing it and, finally, how to make sure your law is up to date.  Jump to:

Type of law: U.S. Code

What is it: The U.S. Code is all of the laws that have been passed by the US Congress that are currently in force. They are organized topically in sections called “titles.”

Top Pick: The best and easiest to navigate version of the US Code can be found at the Legal Information Institute.  Their copy allows for browsing or searching (by title and in whole).  There is also a Popular Name Table if you’re not sure of an exact citation.  (PROTIP: Wikipedia or even just googling the popular name  is also good for determining the correct cite.) LII also provides an RSS feed for each title to keep up with updates.

Other options:

Updating: If you use the LII version of the US Code, there is a box on the right hand side of the screen that links to updates for that section.  Otherwise, you can check the U.S. Code Classification Tables from the U.S. House of Representatives to check if your law has been updated.

Type of law:Regulations

What is it: Regulations are proposed by executive agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Federal Drug Administration (FDA).  A more complete list of agencies can be found here.  These agencies’ proposed rules and regulation appear in the Federal Register, which is a daily publication of the federal government.  After they are enacted, they are placed in the Code of Federal Regulations.  Like the US Code, this is organized topically by “titles.”

Top Pick: The Government Printing Office Code of Federal Regulations allows for quick browsing or searching from its initial page.  (PROTIP: When possible, it will be less confusing to browse and drill down to get to the part that you want or search individual titles only.)  The CFR is updated annually – one fourth of the volumes are done every quarter.   When browsing, the GPO version allows you to easily see when each volume of the CFR was last updated.   That information is important when it comes time to update your law.

Other Options:

Updating: Updating CFR sections, frankly, sucks.  First you need to ascertain when the CFR section you’re looking at was published.   The revision dates chart on GPO is very handy for this.  Then you need to check the List of Sections Affected (LSA) for every month in between that date and the present.  Finally, you need to check the Current List of CFR Parts Affected to catch anything that may have changed between the last LSA and now.  Alternatively, you could just go to the government’s e-CFR which is current as of the date written in red on the top of the screen.

Type of law:Case Law

What is it: Case law is the law that appears primarily in appellate cases.  There can be many issues decided in a single case and it’s sometimes hard to determine the difference between the law created by the case and judicial dicta.

Top Pick: Justia has an easy to navigate U.S. Supreme and Appellate Court search pages on its website.  You can also browse by year or circuit.

Other Options:

Updating: There is only one truly free citator available at the present time.   When using Google Scholar, you can see the cases that cite your case as well as snippets showing how it was cited.  Unfortunately, it does not provide quick visual clues to see how your case has been treated by latter case law.