Legal research links to the four main sources of U.S. & California law
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American law is primarily derived from four sources: constitutions, case law, statutes and administrative regulations. This website has a section devoted to each of those four sources of law. In addition, there is a section on executive orders and treaties. Each section below contains links to free resources for California and U.S. law in each of the four categories of law.
Constitutions provide for a government's authority to exist. In addition, constitutions often enumerate the rights and duties of the government and its citizens. The U.S. Constitution does the foregoing, in addition to establishing the organization of the three branches of the federal government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. In almost all systems of government, the constitutional rules carry the most weight and will prevail when they conflict with other rules promulgated within that system. Each U.S. state also has its own constitution. Cities and counties may have charters, which serve as a kind of constitution at the local level.
This is an official website. It contains a hyperlinked table of contents to the California Constitution.
Search the California Constitution by keyword.
This copy of the U.S. Constitution is organized by Preamble, Articles, Signers and Amendments (Cornell University)
Searchable by keyword, includes annotations (Findlaw.com)
Related to the U.S. Constitution are those documents that preceded the U.S. Constitution, such as the Articles of Confederation, and other writings and documents that were generated while the Constitution was being formulated.
The Articles of Confederation are the documents that were the basis for the United States Government prior to the adoption of the Constitution.
From the Indiana University School of Law website.
First published in 1788, this collection of 85 essays by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, was aimed at garnering public support for the proposed Constitution.
The University of Oklahoma has assembled a collection of U.S. historical documents in chronological order from the pre-colonial era to the present.
Statutes are legislative enactments or laws passed by legislative bodies at the federal or state level. At the local level, such enactments are called often called ordinances. Statutes do not carry as much weight as constitutional provisions. Statutes must not conflict with constitutional provisions.
California Statute Links
Full text of all 29 California Codes organized in a table of contents-style
This is an official website where users can search California statutes by chapter number. When legislative bodies enact statutes, they are first published in large volumes with chapters containing all the statutes passed during that legislative session. These so-called session laws are not grouped together by topic, but chronologically in the order in which they were enacted in each session. So, in these volumes containing session laws you may find, for example, a law dealing with crime next to a law dealing with regulations for dry cleaners. Later, the new statutes are published in the appropriate code books.
California's official version of the Uniform Commercial Code
California Legislative History
Directly related to statutes is something called the legislative history of a statute. The legislative history of a California statute refers to any of the materials generated in the course of creating California state statutes. California legislative history can include such things as state Assembly and Senate committee reports, analyses prepared by legislative counsel, floor debates and histories of actions taken. California legislative history is used for discovering sources of information about the legislative intent.
The following links are useful for compiling a California legislative history:
This is a searchable list of all Senate and Assembly bills introduced since 1993
Get full text of bills, resolutions & constitutional amendments. Also check status, history, votes, analyses, and veto messages
The LRC reviews California statutes and case law and recommends legislation to make reforms.
This is an agency of the legislature that analyzes policy and budget.
California Legislative History (A How-To Guide)
This handy guide from Hastings College of the Law explains how to conduct a legislative history for a California statute.
This webpage contains a complete range of Legislative History, Legislative Intent, and other Legislative Research Services and Information compiled by Jan Raymond, an attorney whose company provides legislative histories for a fee.
Check status, history, votes, analyses, and governor's veto messages. Also, get full text of bills, resolutions & constitutional amendments
Federal Statute Links
Full text access the U.S. Code via Cornell University's Legal Information Institute
From the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University
Federal Legislative History
As mentioned above, all statutes have a legislative history. Federal legislative history refers to any of the materials generated in the course of creating federal statutes. Federal legislative history can include such things as House of Representatives and Senate committee reports, floor debates and histories of actions taken. Federal legislative history is used for discovering sources of information about the legislative intent.
The following links are useful for compiling a federal legislative history:
THOMAS is your link to official federal legislative information.
Get full text of bills, bill history, and Congressional debates.
Federal Legislative History (A How-To Guide)
This link explains how to conduct a legislative history for a federal statute (from Georgetown University).
The History of Bills lists legislative actions on bills that are reported in the Congressional Record.
Case law, also known as common law, is the body of law developed through the years from court decisions. Courts are required to follow these prior decisions, called precedents, if the prior case was decided by a higher court within the jurisdiction, and the case under review has similar legal issues and facts to that of the prior case. This concept is also known as stare decisis, which is Latin for “let stand that which has been decided.” Courts are also frequently called upon to explain and clarify the meaning of statutes.
Google Scholar for Case Law
Google Scholar (Main search page)
Google Scholar (Advanced search page)
California Case Law Links
California Supreme Court & California District Courts of Appeal opinions from 1934 to present.
Lexis-Nexis is now the publisher of California Official Reports. Their website provides free access to official California case law.
A slip opinion is an opinion that is either not published or not yet published in a reporter. Slip opinions generally are available from the court directly either in print or on its web site. Slip opinions certified for publication or ordered published in the Official Reports in the last 120 days are posted at the above link.
Federal Case Law Links
Free access to U.S. Supreme Court opinions from FindLaw.com. Search by citation, party name, or search the full text of opinions by key word.
Free access to U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals opinions from FindLaw.com. Searchable by circuit, date, docket number, party name, or full text.
Another good source for U.S. Supreme and Circuit Court of Appeals opinions is AltLaw, a free, full-text, searchable database of U.S. case law providing from the U.S. Supreme Court, since 1805; and the U.S. Circuit Appeals Courts, since 1950
State and federal administrative agencies have a dual role. These agencies can act quasi-legislatively by enacting rules and regulations which have the force of law. These agencies can also act quasi-judicially by hearing disputes involving the application of their own administrative regulations. These agencies can then issue binding legal opinions. Examples of federal administrative agencies include the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
California Administrative Regulations Links
The California Code of Regulations contains the text of the regulations that have been formally adopted by state agencies.
The Office of Administrative Law reviews administrative regulations proposed by state agencies for compliance with the California's Administrative Procedure Act, transmits these regulations to the Secretary of State and publishes regulations in the California Code of Regulations.
The State Administrative Manual is a reference source for statewide policies, procedures, regulations and information developed and issued by authoring agencies such as the Governor's Office, Department of General Services (DGS), Department of Finance (DOF), and Department of Personnel Administration.
As the chief law officer of the state, the California Attorney General provides legal opinions upon request to designated state and local public officials and government agencies on issues arising in the course of their duties. The formal legal opinions of the California Attorney General have been accorded “great respect” and “great weight” by the courts. Legal opinions of the California Attorney General issued since 1986 may be viewed on this website. In addition to searching opinions by year and by key words or phrases, you may now search for opinions by specific citations.
Federal Administrative Regulations Links
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) contains the text of rules that have been adopted by various federal agencies. Most CFR provisions are contained in the United States Code.
Not an official legal edition of the CFR, but is easy to use. You can locate the text of all regulations by topic.
Treaties and Executive Orders
Two often overlooked source of law are treaties and executive orders. Treaties are formally signed agreements between two or more countries.
Executive orders are orders issued by the head of the executive branch of the state or federal government. U.S. Presidents have issued executive orders since 1789, usually to help direct the operation of executive officers. Some orders do have the force of law when made in pursuance of certain Acts of Congress, when those acts give the President discretionary powers.
This site is the principal U.S. government repository for U.S. treaties and other international agreements.
Executive Orders Links
The link above contains current and archival executive orders issued by the governor of California dating back to 1999.
Executive orders are official documents used by the President of the United States to manage the federal government.
Published each Monday, the compilation contains statements, messages, and other executive branch materials released the preceding week.
This website was developed for educational and informational purposes only. The creators of the site are not attorneys. None of the information on the site is intended to be legal advice. You should consult with an attorney prior to acting on any information found here. This site contains links to sites on the Internet owned and operated by third parties. We are not responsible for the availability of, or the content located on or through, any such third-party site. Use the information found on this site, and on the external sites, at your own risk. Any similarity to other legal research websites is unintentional, and given the nature of such sites, may be unavoidable.
E-Z Legal Research
Updated July 14, 2013