Publishing U.S. Law

When an enrolled bill becomes law, it is then sent to the Archives of the United States. If the bill becomes law by legislative override of an executive veto, Congress sends the bill to the Archives. If the bill becomes law through any other method, such as a pocket approval or signature approval, the White House sends the bill to the Archives.

No Archives Turns
Creative Commons License photo credit: rachaelvoorhees

Once a bill arrives at the Archives it is assigned a public law number by the archivist. Numbers run in sequence from the beginning of a Congress. Since 1957, the prefix indicates the number of the Congress (see Terms of Congress).

The first official publication of a law is in a pamphlet that contains only that law. This pamphlet is known as a slip law. Every slip law is prepared and published by the Archivist of the United States through the Office of the Federal Register. A slip Legislative Drafters Deskbook by Tobias Dorseylaw will contain the text of the new law as well as quite a bit of other new information such as the public law number, the date of approval of the President as applicable, the designation and the number of the underlying bill, the volume of the Statutes at Large in which the new law will appear, marginal notes and a reference guide to the legislative history of that new law. The reference guide will indicate whether any presidential statement or committee report was printed in relation to the legislation. If so, the reference guide will provide the appropriate citations. The guide will also provide information regarding the dates on which the legislation passed the House and the Senate.

The marginal notes will provide additional reference information along with other explanatory material. The marginal notes appear in the actual margins of the slip law. In addition, anytime the text of the new act refers to any other provision that already possesses a United States Code citation, there will be a marginal note that will indicate information about that Code citation.

The second official publication of the new law occurs as part of the United States Statutes at Large. This is an extensive collection of slip laws for each session of Congress. They are arranged by sequence of the public law numbers. The Statutes at Large are published in bound volumes by the Archivist of the United States through the Office of the Federal Register.

To learn more about drafting effective legislation, consider taking TheCapitol.Net’s 2-day Legislative Drafting Workshop.

Reference: Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook, by Tobias Dorsey, Sec. 2.60 Publishing the Law.

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