In Washington, D.C., acronyms and initialisms are not in short supply. You have the FAA, FBI, FCC, FEC, FMC, DHS, DOE, DOD, and HHS—and you are barely getting started. But in the world of legal authority, there is a whole other set of abbreviations. It can be disorienting to come across an authority you don’t recognize as you are reading a case or doing research. Hopefully, this quick guide to federal legal authority will help you to avoid some confusion.
- P.L. – Public Law
To cite federal legislation in its bill form, or as session laws, you use the legislation’s public law number. Session laws are codified into the U.S. Code (or U.S.C.), amending, enacting, and repealing the code as necessary. You will see the P.L. abbreviation in some history notes or other citation formats. The Bluebook covers such citations under Rule 12.4. For an example, see the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107–296, 116 Stat. 2135. For a PDF version of any most any public law, visit the Government Publishing Office’s FDsys website.
- U.S.C. – United States Code
Once session law is codified, the common citation for the law will be to its U.S. Code reference. For example, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 mentioned above enacted 6 U.S.C. 101. Look to Bluebook Rule 12 for details on citing to the U.S. Code. For an authoritative, up-to-date U.S. Code online, visit the U.S. House of Representative’s Office of the Law Revisions Counsel U.S. Code website.
- CRS Report– Congressional Research Service Report
CRS Reports are actually a secondary source, but few resources are quite as helpful in federal law research. These reports are a treasure trove of well-cited material that can both help you to understand the state of federal legislation and lead you to other useful original source documents. The Bluebook citation of this resource is at Rule 13.4(d)—it can be tricky to find because it is in the Legislative Materials section of the Bluebook. Unfortunately, CRS reports are not systematically made publically available, but a quick search of the internet for a CRS report is usually fruitful.
- E.O. – Executive Order
Also abbreviated as “exec. order” or “ex. ord.,” executive orders are presidential decrees that direct the executive branch of the federal government. Black’s Law defines executive order as “an order issued by or on behalf of the President, usu. intended to direct or instruct the actions of executive agencies or government officials, or to set policies for the executive branch to follow.” Black’s Law Dictionary 651 (9th ed. 2009). The Bluebook covers executive orders in Table 1.2 as an order from the Executive Office of the President. For executive orders from 1937 through today, visit the National Archives Executive Orders Disposition Tables Index.
- F.R. – Federal Register
The Federal Register is “the daily journal of the United States Government.” Federal Register citations will be used for federal administrative notices or rulemaking actions. For example, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) promulgated a final rule at 82 Fed. Reg. 16288. You will find the Bluebook citation, which uses the abbreviation “Fed. Reg.,” at Bluebook Rule 14.1. For all Federal Register documents since 1994, the National Archives maintains an updated, user-friendly website at www.federalregister.gov.
- C.F.R. – Code of Federal Regulations
Generally, the P.L. is to the U.S.C. as the F.R. is to the C.F.R. Not all Federal Register documents are codified in the C.F.R., but all regulations in the C.F.R. were first published in the Federal Register. For example, 46 C.F.R. § 530.3 was amended by the final rule published at 82 Fed. Reg. 16288 discussed above—FMC regulations are all codified together at 46 C.F.R. Chapter IV. The C.F.R. is cited to according to Bluebook Rule 14.2. For an up-to-date C.F.R., the Government Publishing Office maintains the daily update e-CFR. (But as the website warns, the e-CFR is not an “official legal edition,” track down a published PDF version for citation purposes.)
- F. Supp. 3d – Federal Supplement, Third Series
The Federal Supplement reports U.S. district court decisions. All case citation information is at Bluebook Rule 10, but see Table 1.1 for Federal Judicial and Legislative Materials for specific federal reporter information.
- F.3d – Federal Reporter, Third Series
U.S. Court of Appeals opinions issued since 1993 will cite to the Federal Reporter, third series. See Bluebook Table 1.1.
- U.S. – United States Reporter
The United States Reporter is the gold standard for U.S. Supreme Court cites. U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1790 will have a U.S. reporter citation. See Bluebook Table 1.1.
- S. Ct. – Supreme Court Reporter
If an opinion does not have U.S. reporter citation information yet, you can use an alternate Supreme Court reporter. The Supreme Court Reporter is the second preferred citation behind the U.S. Reporter according to Bluebook Table T1.1.
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