Retrieving Statutes, Cases and Law Review Commentary-A Primer For-Non Lawyers

By Whiteman, Michael | Journal of Law and Education, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Retrieving Statutes, Cases and Law Review Commentary-A Primer For-Non Lawyers


Whiteman, Michael, Journal of Law and Education


Education Law Research

I. FINDING STATUTORY LAW-IDEA AS AN EXAMPLE

The common law as known in 17th century England has virtually disappeared both in England and the United States. The law, as we know it, is statutory. The courts still decide cases, but the law interpreted and applied is statutory law. Education law is replete with state and federal legislation. The shorthand terms Title VII and Title IX and the acronyms IDEA and ERISA are workaday words in the school attorney's glossary. Indeed, the starting point for any legal inquiry is, what statute or statutes are involved, and how are they worded.

"Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" (IDEA) will be used as an example of how to locate statutes as this Act enjoys more than its share of litigation, hence its selection.

Normally a court in a judicial opinion will simply cite to the statute, assuming that the reader is already familiar with what it actually says. You will often find that it is helpful to actually read the full text of the statute being cited by the court. This section will show you how to dissect a statutory citation and then show you where to find the text of the law itself.

The official compilation of all the current general and permanent laws of the United States is the United States Code. This document is available online, for free, to the public at large. Government, academic and commercial web sites have versions of the United States Code online. Among them are:

Cornell University's Legal Information Institute

http://www4.law.comell.edu/uscode

Findlaw http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/codes.html/

GPO Acess http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong013.html

United States House of Representatives http://uscode.house.gov/usc.htm

No one site is listed as an official version of the Code. The U.S. House site cautions users that "[w]hile every effort has been made to ensure that the Code database on the web site is accurate, those using it for legal research should verify their results against the printed version of the United States Code."

No matter which site you decide to use, they all have very similar search features. You can search by keyword, browse the table of contents, or go directly to a known Code section. Each site also has the same limitation, the currency of the Code is usually at least a year out of date. For most inquiries, this will be recent enough. On the other hand, there are various tools listed on each site for updating the Code, but generally the sites point you to the U.S. House site where you are expected to browse the Tables of new Public Laws to verify whether the Code section you are looking at has been affected by any newer laws. For this reason it is best to use the U.S. House version of the U.S. Code.

The following illustrations will show you how to pull up the first section of IDEA from the House of Representatives site. (Figure 1)

On the House of Representatives page you can enter the citation to the United States Code that you have on hand directly into the boxes that say "Title" and "Section" respectively. Enter "20" into the Title box and "1401" into the Section box. (Figure 2)

Once you have entered your Title and Section numbers press the "Search" button to retrieve your citation. The next screen that you see will be the results screen. (Figure 3)

Simply click on the section you entered earlier (20 U.S.C. (sec)1401) and you will retrieve the full text of this section. (Figure 4)

If you wanted to read the sections that precede or follow the section you are currently viewing there is no need to perform a new search. You may simply click on the arrows located at the top left hand corner of your screen. The left arrow will take you back one section, while the right arrow will take you forward one section.

The United States Code is also available in print. Visit any law library (academic or institutional) and they will have multiple copies of the United States Code.

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