Some research tasks involving legislative materials are relatively straightforward. You need to find a certain document, what librarians call a “known item.” You need a particular Senate Bill or a public law and maybe you even have the citation or know what law it came from. The researcher with a task like this has a wealth of options including Lexis, Westlaw, and free sites like Congress.gov.
The researcher who has the more difficult research task is the one who does not know where a statement is found. Those sources that let you find a known item do not (at least not easily) let you search across all of the documents that make up a legislative history. That’s where the sources that I am highlighting become invaluable. Hein’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library has what are called “compiled legislative histories.” These are what they say they are: compilations of all of the documents in the legislative history of a single public law. Better yet, you can search across all of the documents at once using Hein.
Hein’s library is a little quirky, but it’s worth it. Let’s say you want to find any mention of “grease payments” in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). When you click on U.S. Federal Legislative History Library from Hein’s main page you are met with this confusing menu:
The first thing you probably see is the search box. That will search across all of the legislative histories. Because you already know you only want the FCPA, this isn’t helpful. The next thing we see are a few buttons with different options. The first two are the U.S. Federal Legislative History Collection and the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database. Which one has the compiled legislative histories? Would you believe it if I said that they both do? The Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database is unique because it gives information, citations to, and links to law review articles that contain enough legislative history to be considered compiled legislative histories. Because these law review articles will actually discuss the legislative history of a law and may go into what it all means, I prefer the Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories Database as a starting point. Also, that database contains the same compilations of documents that you’ll find in that U.S. Federal Legislative History Collection.
Once I locate the FCPA in the Sources database (hint: search or browse by popular name or public law number), here’s what I see:
As I mentioned before, all of those law review articles are potential starting points for an in-depth discussion of the legislative history and what it means. But to search across the legislative history of the FCPA for any mention of “grease payments” my best option is the first entry. That’s a compiled legislative history of the FCPA made by the Howrey Law Firm in 1977 that spans two volumes of print. Lucky you, you can search across all of it all at once.
So that’s what makes Hein’s product so valuable. Now let’s say you’re interested in a more broad question. Let’s say you wanted to find any mention of “grease payments” by Congress and you didn’t want to limit yourself to the FCPA. If you searched Hein’s legislative history database you’d be limiting yourself to the laws for which Hein has a compiled legislative history. If you searched Lexis, Westlaw, or a free source like Congress.gov, you’d limit yourself to around 1990 to the present.
In steps Proquest Congressional. Proquest Congressional is a massive database of Congressional documents. It isn’t absolutely everything from all time in full-text. Some things just weren’t published in the earliest years of Congress and some materials are available with an abstract and some index terms rather than full-text. But this database is as close as you’re going to get as a database of all Congressional materials. Thus, you could search for “grease payments” cutting across the widest possible range of time and document type.
This can also be helpful for legislation that took many years to pass across several Congresses. Famously, President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act into law after it passed Congress and was vetoed by President Bush. Less famously, women’s service on federal juries was considered by Congress from the early 1940’s until a law was finally passed to prescribe uniform qualification for jurors in the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
ProQuest Congressional is also nice because it gathers together witness information. This lets you find every time that, say, someone from the ACLU testified before Congress or every time that Fred Rogers testified.
So if you’re looking to research the history of a law and you want to search across all the documents in a legislative history or across a broad date range, you’ll want to try Hein’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library and ProQuest Congressional.