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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday's Legal Resource: Congressional Universe

Legislative history is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of legal research. The one benefit of finding federal legislative history is the wealth of resources available to the seeker. One of those resources is a database that the Fred Parks Law Library subscribes to called Congressional Universe, published by Lexis.

There are a variety of ways to search for documents including by document number, member of Congress, subject terms, or keywords. Despite this, the site can be rather tricky to use, especially for first timers who don’t have an exact document number. A reference librarian will be happy to help individuals who need help with their search.

Congressional Universe provides access to a number of documents pertaining to federal legislation in a variety of formats. Congressional Universe will often provide html formats for many materials in the results. The Fred Parks Law Library provides access to hard copies of the documents in microfiche on the first floor. To obtain these documents in microfiche you must use the CIS number in the results you get on Congressional Universe, usually located in the heading of the document in the upper left-hand corner.

Using the following example: CIS-NO: 2004-H201-2

2004: the year the document was published. The last two numbers will be on the upper right hand portion of the microfiche

H201-2: the H signifies that the document was published by the House of Representatives. This portion will be located on the upper left hand corner of the microfiche.

It is important to note that documents published prior to 1970, specifically 1789-1969, are considered part of the Serials Set which has different, and less consistent, coverage than documents published after 1970. In the Serials Set you will find the committee reports, journals, manuals, and administrative reports of both Chambers in addition to a variety of directories, orations, and special publications. You will usually not find committee hearings and prints.

Using the CIS number for finding Serials Set documents in microfiche, there would be no year, so you would just search using the alphanumeric portion, for example: CIS-NO: S5056.