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United States Code: Using the United States Code

A guide to using the United States Code and its various versions for law students, recent graduates, and members of the public.

How to use

First, begin your search by reviewing the index of the annotated codes. As with secondary sources and digests, the best way to search the index is by identifying potential search terms that may be relevant to your issue.

Second, after you find a relevant statutory section in the index, review the table of contents for the chapter that contains the statutory section(s) you identified.

Third, looking at the statute’s table of contents can help you determine if there are other provisions of the statute that might apply to your problem. Statutory sections frequently relate to or rely on other sections of the same statutory scheme.Thus, you want to have an overview of the statute before you jump to any particular section.

Fourth, review the text of the relevant statutory sections. The text of the statute is primary authority. Sometimes, the text of the statute will provide you with a clear answer regarding your client’s factual situation. Once you have reviewed the text of the relevant statutory sections, then review all relevant annotations to the sections you have read, especially the Notes of Decisions. Frequently, the terms used in a statute are ambiguous, at least with regard to your client’s factual situation. The cases identified in the Notes of Decisions will help you learn how the statute has been applied in situations similar to your client’s.

Once you have completed steps one through four, then review the pocket part to determine if the statute has been amended, and identify any new annotations that may be helpful to your research. Of course, you can also use Westlaw and LexisNexis to ensure that you have the most recent version of the statutory text and all recent annotations., – this guide was co-authored by Vickie Steiner and Prof. Holm

Potential Uses

  1. Read the US Code
  2. Read annotations that explain the US Code
  3. Find West Key Numbers relating to US Code sections
  4. Find West Headnotes relating to US Code sections