After a bill passes, it is assigned a sequential public law number. For example, the 23rd bill passed in the 103rd Congress would be Public Law 103-23.
The text of the public law is printed first in pamphlet form, which is known as a slip law. Then, at the end of each legislative session, laws are arranged chronologically and printed in the United States Statutes at Large (known as the session laws).
The United States Code (USC) contains all public and permanent federal laws currently in force and is arranged by subject matter. In the citation 18 U.S.C. 1000, 18 refers to Title 18 in which many criminal laws are codified, and 1000 refers to the particular section of that Title.
The US Code is the official codification but there are also two unofficial annotated codes: the United States Code Annotated (USCA) from West and the United States Code Service (USCS) from LexisNexis.
A legislative history is a term used to designate documents produced by Congress leading up to the enactment of a law. The purpose behind conducting a legislative history is to examine Congress’ intent behind the enactment of the law, or the reasons behind the failure of a bill to become a law.
See our separate guide to Federal Congressional Procedure and Legislative History for more information on locating these documents.