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Political Science & Public Administration

Information and research help for the discipline of political science and public administration.

How a Bill Becomes Law

A Bill on Capital Hill: Steps in the Legislative Process

A Bill is Introduced in Congress

A bill is usually introduced in either the House or Senate by its sponsor.  Bills can also have multiple cosponsors.  Once the bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee.


Committee Hearings, Reports, and Prints

The congressional committee or subcommittee decides on whether or not to consider the bill; many are not considered and "die in committee."  Committees may choose to hold hearings where relevant experts are gathered before the committee to testify, giving their opinions and relevant data on the subject matter of the bill.  Committees can choose to make changes or amendments to the bill with markups.  Committees may issue a report to the Congress about their deliberations.  Other relevant materials may be gathered and published as a committee print.

Floor Action and Debate

Bills that are reported on favorably by committee are brought forward for floor action.  If the bill is approved for consideration on the floor it may be debated or amended before being passed by the House or Senate.  All congressional actions are published verbatim in the Congressional Record.  Once the bill passes one chamber of Congress it becomes an engrossed bill or act.

Conference Committee Reports

The act goes to the other chamber of Congress and proceeds through a similar process of being referred to a committee, marked-up, debated, and amended.  If the bill is not substantially changed then it can be passed by the second chamber and sent to the President.

If the bill is substantially changed then a conference committee may be convened.  The conference committee is composed of members from both chambers who try to agree on a compromise for the bill.  If they are successful, then a conference report is issued with a version of the agreed-upon bill and an explanation for any changes.  This newly amended bill must be approved, without changes, by both the House and the Senate before being sent to the President.

The final version of the bill is called the enrolled bill.

Presidential Actions

The enrolled bill is sent to the President for signature.  The President must sign the bill within 10 days to become law, or the President can choose to veto the bill and send it back to Congress with a veto message.  Congress can override a veto with 2/3 majority vote from both chambers.  If the President does not sign the bill within 10 days, and congress is in session, then the bill automatically becomes law.  If the President doesn't sign the bill, and Congress is not in session, then the bill fails.  This is known as a pocket veto.  When the President signs a bill it immediately becomes law, and a signing statement may be issued to accompany it.  The bill is assigned a Public Law number.

Slip Laws, Statutes, and Codes

When a bill becomes a law and is assigned a Public Law number it is first published by the Office of the Federal Register as slip law.  The law will next be published in sequential order with other passed laws from the congressional session in the Statutes at Large.  Statutes at Large indicates if and how the law is codified by the Law Revision Counsel in the United States Code.


Congress grants authority to executive agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, to interpret the Statutes at Large and US Code in the drafting of administrative law (general rules and regulations).  This administrative law is published and organized by agency in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  The CFR is revised annually.  Any proposed changes are published daily in the Federal Register.


*Information obtained from and

Finding Federal Laws

Federal laws apply to people living in the United States and its territories.

Congress creates and passes bills. The president then may sign those bills into law. Federal courts may review the laws to see if they agree with the Constitution. If a court finds a law is unconstitutional, it can strike it down.


*Information compiled from

Find Federal Laws

The United States Code contains general and permanent federal laws. It does not include regulations, decisions, or laws issued by:

  • Federal agencies

  • Federal courts

  • Treaties

  • State and local governments

New public and private laws appear in each edition of the United States Statutes at Large.  There is a new edition for each session of Congress.


*Information compiled from

Federal Regulations

Regulations are issued by federal agencies, boards, and commissions. They explain how agencies plan to carry out laws. Regulations are published yearly in the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Rulemaking Process

Federal regulations are created through a process known as rulemaking (PDF, Download Adobe Reader). If an agency wants to make, change, or delete a rule, it will:

  1. Publish the proposal in the Federal Register

  2. Seek public comment

  3. Consider the public's comments and change the rule if necessary. The agency then publishes the final version in the Federal Register along with:

    • A description of the comments received

    • The agency’s response to those comments

    • The date the rule goes into effect


*Information compiled from

Federal Court Decisions

Federal courts do not write or pass laws. But they may establish individual “rights” under federal law. This happens through courts' interpretations of federal and state laws and the Constitution.

An example is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The court decided that state laws that segregated public school students by race violated the 14th Amendment. It said that "separate but equal" schools cause minority children to feel inferior. And that hurts their educational opportunities.

Research decisions of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.


*Information compiled from

State Laws and Regulations

State legislatures make the laws in each state. State courts can review these laws. If a court decides a law doesn't agree with the state's constitution, it can declare it invalid.

Find state laws and regulations with the Law Library of Congress’s guide for each state.

*Information compiled from

Databases and Government Information

Catalog of US Government Publications: The searchable online catalog covers all types of U.S. government documents, including Congressional reports, hearings, debates, and records; judiciary materials; and documents issued by executive departments. Most recent documents are available full-text in pdf. Allows searching of more than 51 million web pages from federal and state governments, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. You may select customer gateways - Citizens, Businesses and Nonprofits, Federal Employees, and Government-to-Government - to help narrow your search.
HeinOnlineHeinOnline is the world's largest fully searchable, image-based government document and legal research database. It contains comprehensive coverage from inception of both U.S. statutory materials, U.S. Congressional Documents and more than 2,600 scholarly journals, all of the world's constitutions, all U.S. treaties, collections of classic treatises and presidential documents, and access to the full text of state and federal case law powered by Fastcase. This HeinOnline Government, Politics & Law database package includes, among other things, special collections on Criminal Justice, History, Foreign Relations, Religion and the Law and Women and the Law.

Academic Search CompleteA multi-disciplinary database, with more than 6,100 full-text periodicals, including more than 5,100 peer-reviewed journals. 

JSTOR: A full-text database that covers a wide variety of topics. Some titles extend back to the mid-1800s. Many titles go back to the early 1900s. Most titles have a publisher's embargo, so the most current volumes are not available. 

Research Library (Proquest)Provides one-stop access to a wide range of popular academic subjects and includes full-text access for thousands of titles, including scholarly journals, trade publications, magazines, and newspapers.

Westlaw: is a legal research database that provides an array of interconnected primary and analytical law content to help students get a more complete understanding of the issue they are studying. Primary law includes access to federal and state case law, statutes, and regulations. Additionally, Campus Research provides access to thousands of analytical resources including American Jurisprudence, 2d., American Law Reports, and more than 800 law reviews and journals from law schools across the country. Research in nearly every academic discipline: business, marketing, accounting, criminal justice, health, social sciences, history, political science, and more; intersects with the law. So all students can benefit from the comprehensive primary and analytical law-related sources readily available on Campus Research.


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