I've done a lot of digging through the codified statutes, at least in my jurisdiction. I'm wondering if there is an efficient way to search through the session laws to find where the related session law is which corresponds to a codified law. Often, the session laws are titled something that may not contain a relatable key word. And they're ordered chronologically. I'm mainly interested in seeing the progression of a chaptered statute as it is changed over many years or even decades and possibly centuries. I'm sure there's an old fashioned way of doing this search and a new technologically improved way, too. I suppose I would need to know both, depending on how far back in history I wish to be looking.

The reason I am looking is because I am looking for evidence of intent for when the law was created.

If this is a question that will only be answerable in a jurisdiction-specific way, then I'm asking about Maine and the Federal Government.

(No, I am not in school, and no this is not my homework.)

  • I just realized you were in Maine. If you were in Portland, that was actually the law librarian that I used all the time to do my legislative research (and referred to in my answer). The law court there has a great while librarian who will compile legislative history for you in a day or two.
    – gracey209
    Jan 8, 2016 at 13:43
  • maine.gov/msl/services/ask.htm
    – gracey209
    Jan 8, 2016 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


The best place to find intent is the legislative history, and you're right, the session laws' text or even its bill numbers are not printed in the history of the statute (and are titled and chartered differently). They are much more difficult to research than statutes. In the notation after the statute, sometimes, in some states, it will list the session laws in order from the first enactment through all of its legislative changes to its current form. And then you can backtrack.

That said if you're not using a professional search site, there is nearly no way to just find them through a Google or Findlaw search. Some states may assign an archaic system to their indexing. I've seen, where it will have state abbreviation, say MA, the year, 2012, then the actual numerical filing order, then the session – e.g., MA12-3694-1. However, to find the legislative session, you need to use a Boolean logic search on Lexis or West, or use your local law librarian. Also, many states legislative webpages now have them. You can use Lexis and Westlaw at the law library, for free.

If you don't have a professional search engine, you can use one at any local law library.


  1. Identify the state Code section you wish to research.
  2. Find which session law created the language.
  3. Determine which bill created the law.
  4. Trace the procedural history of the bill during its passage.

Then, at the law library, you can read the various discussions on the floor relating to intent, as well as listen to the hearings on audio for more recent enactments (past 50 years or so). This is especially useful if it was a contested bill or if it was brought about by some sort of social or political climate at the time. In some places, for instance where I live, if you call your court's law library the librarian will compile it for you if you know the statute for which you want the legislative history searched. I've done that many times and they don't mind doing it.


It depends upon the year range that you are searching for. If you want federal laws enacted within the past few decades, you can search on the GPO site. It's the best and easiest.

If you to search older stuff, you need to switch to a pay service (which you can usually get for free at a [law] library). The Maine state courts have law libraries.

In Federal Law, the code is officially unofficial for most titles. The U.S. Code includes endnotes that identify the statutes the codifiers incorporated for each section.

You can search the code then either search statutes for matching phrases or look at the endnote annotations. Keep in mind when you are search that the text can change between the statute and the code (which is why it is unofficial); especially references.

If you are looking at the WHY, major federal acts will usually have a compilation of materials created by an editor. For something like the Immigration Act of 1990, a good law library will have a multivolume set of such compilations on the shelves.

Otherwise you have to search.

The best source for searching secondary material like this is HEIN, most law libraries and many large libraries have access to it.

If you're looking for changes of many years, the best starting point is the printed code volumes. Sadly, on-line services do not do this even though it would be easy for them to do and it would bring a lot of added value.

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