For research assistants and summer law firm associates, a frequent, yet intimidating, request goes something like this: “Can you figure out what the law is on Topic X in every state?” As a reference librarian, one of the most satisfying moments in my job is getting to tell a stressed-out recipient of this request that they do not need to dive into all 50 state codes; instead, 50 state surveys aggregating this information are often available. For an excellent look at some of the available resources for locating 50 state surveys, I recommend reviewing Tom Gaylord’s 2018 post for this blog. Today, I would like to take a deeper dive into one of these resources, HeinOnline’s Subject Compilation of State Laws.
Subject Compilation of State Laws (SCSL) is available through the Pritzker Legal Research Center’s list of databases, and a link is also provided within the right-hand column on the HeinOnline landing page. SCSL provides citations and, oftentimes, links to the full-text of resources that compare the laws of multiple states on a given topic. To get started, I recommend selecting the “Browse the Subjects” button, then navigating the alphabetical list to find your topic.
For example, using the alphabetical list, we can scroll down and choose “Electioneering.” At this point, we retrieve a list of 18 results, the first of which is a summary of and link to a resource from the National Association of Secretaries of State, entitled “State Laws on Electioneering Boundaries.” If we continue working our way down the list, we also find links to the full-text of academic law review articles, as well as citations to relevant court briefs.
SCSL can be incredibly useful, but a few qualifications are in order. First, the number of available results depends on the topic you are researching. In our “electioneering” example, SCSL provided us with 18 quality leads for our research; however, for some topics, you may find that only a few resources are listed, and they may be quite dated. Second, many of the resources identified in SCSL, including law journal articles and court briefs, are static. So, it will be necessary to update and verify any information you locate to make sure it is still accurate. Finally, many of the resources listed in SCSL are only citations, so it will be necessary to track them down after the fact (if you need help with this, feel free to ask a librarian). Despite these potential drawbacks, though, SCSL is a tremendous resource to keep in mind when you need to identify the laws on a topic in multiple jurisdictions.