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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Formally Citing a Federal Statute?- Check the United States Code, the 2012 Version.

A new edition of the United States Code started last year (The federal Government Printing Office basically does a new one every six years, and, in the interim, they put out supplements, like yearbooks added onto an old-fashioned printed encyclopedia.). The Bluebook says that the proper way to cite a federal statute is to cite it to the U.S.C. You're supposed to give the volume number and the date for the section you are citing. So, in the most formal legal writing situations, you have to look up every citation of a federal statute in the official printed United States Code published by the GPO to cite it to Bluebook standards. If I won the lottery, I would just buy every new volume each time one came out. As of this writing, there appear to be six volumes so far, each costing from between $138 and $156. If I spent that kind of money on infrequently used law books (I do much more Texas state work than I do federal work.), the financial controller of my law firm (AKA my wife) would have my ass.

As a practical matter, for formal citation of federal statutes, I am almost certainly going to need to make at least one trip to a Houston law library.

Do not confuse the U.S.C. with the United States Code Annotated by West-- probably the print edition easiest to access-- or the United States Code Service by LexisNexis. The annotations of these versions make them much more helpful for actual research. The rap on these two is generally that West's has a few more notes. The very,very nice folks at LexisNexis say that their version is more carefully edited-- that is, the extra annotations in West's aren't really interpretive-- they include a lot references to U.S.C. sections that are merely formal and add nothing, and LexisNexis costs a great deal less. Of course, access to U.S.C.A. is on the Westlaw computer service and U.S.C.S. can be gotten to on LexisNexis's website.

There are many fine, no-charge Internet sources of federal statutes:
U.S.C.A., U.S.C.S. and the no-charge cites above don't have the formal volume numbers and year numbers that the Bluebook requires, but they are fine for everyday use.

The GPO's annual U.S.C. CD-ROM is only $15, but presently the latest one is the one in which the statutes in force as of January 5, 2009 are collected.

People will look back at these times when formal legal citation required a book full of paper pages to be checked as a dark ages, and it might be that a physical edition may always have to be authoritative or authoritatively checked, but there's no reason it could not be some sort of read-only data file, one for which access could be gotten for no charge, notwithstanding at least one trend going the other way. It's no surprise that the Government Printing Office wants to change its name to the Government Publishing Office, since putting ink on paper will be less and less of what it does.

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