Skip to main content

Federal Legislation

Locating Laws

How our Laws are Made

Public and Private Laws

The following excerpt is taken from FDsys.

Public and Private Laws

Public and private laws are prepared and published by the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  

After the President signs a bill into law, it is delivered to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where it is assigned a law number, legal statutory citation (public laws only), and prepared for publication as a slip law. Private laws receive their legal statutory citations when they are published in the United States Statutes at Large.

Prior to publication as a slip law, OFR also prepares marginal notes and citations for each law, and a legislative history for public laws only. Until the slip law is published, through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), the text of the law can be found by accessing the enrolled version of the bill.

Note: A slip law is an official publication of the law and is "competent evidence," admissible in all state and Federal courts and tribunals of the United States (1 U.S.C. 113).

What is the difference between a public and private law?

  • Public Laws: Most laws passed by Congress are public laws. Public laws affect society as a whole. Public laws citations include the abbreviation, Pub.L., the Congress number (e.g. 107), and the number of the law. For example: Pub.L. 107-006.
  • Private laws: Affect an individual, family, or small group. Private laws are enacted to assist citizens that have been injured by government programs or who are appealing an executive agency ruling such as deportation. Private laws citations include the abbreviation, Pvt.L., the Congress number (e.g. 107), and the number of the law. For example: Pvt.L. 107-006.

Public and private laws contain the following information in either the header or side notes:

  • Public law number
  • Date of enactment
  • Bill number
  • Popular name of the law
  • Statutes at Large citation
  • U.S. Code citation
  • Legislative history (Public laws only)

At the end of each session of Congress, the slip laws are compiled into bound volumes called the Statutes at Large, and they are known as "session laws." The Statutes at Large present a chronological arrangement of the laws in the exact order that they have been enacted.

Every six years, public laws are incorporated into the United States Code, which is a codification of all general and permanent laws of the United States. A supplement to the United States Code is published during each interim year until the next comprehensive volume is published. The U.S. Code is arranged by subject matter, and it shows the present status of laws with amendments already incorporated in the text that have been amended on one or more occasions.

The Florida State University Libraries
Library Hours | Maps and Directions | Employment | Giving to the Libraries | The FSULib Blog | Library Homepage

© 2016 Florida State University Libraries | 116 Honors Way | Tallahassee, FL 32306 | (850) 644-2706