Research Guide – Public & Private Laws


Public and Private laws:

Public Laws – Most laws passed by Congress are public laws. Public laws, also referred to as federal statutes, affect society as a whole. Public laws citations include the abbreviation, Pub. L., the Congress Session 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.

Statutory Documents:

Slip Law – A slip law is an official publication of the law, published unbound. It is a published individual law, sometimes only a single page in length. A slip law is usually published a few days after a law has been enacted. Slip laws are compiled in chronological order at the end of each session and compiled into bound volumes call United States Statutes at Large.

Session Laws – Session laws are the chronological publication of laws passed by Legislature during a single session. The official publication is titled, United States Statutes at Large, and is published by the United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) after each session adjourns.  Typically shortened to Statutes at Large, each volume includes both public laws and private laws.  A subject index appears at the end of each volume.

Codified Law – Codified laws restates passed by Legislature by subject, as opposed to chronologically. Published as the United States Code, the title is the consolidation and codification of general and permanent laws by subject, or title. There are 54 listed titles in the U.S. Code, though title 53 is marked Reserved. The U.S. Code is printed every 6 years, though an online version exists on GovInfo, which is updated more frequently.

How to Locate Public and Private Laws:

Public and Private Laws, 104th Congress to Present (1995/1996 to Present) – the easiest method is to search online through GovInfo,; ISL does have tangible copies of public and private laws. Public and private laws have a SuDoc class of AE 2.110: followed by the law number (Congressional session-chronological number). Tangible slip laws range from the 111th Congress to present (currently the 115th Congress). U.S. Statutes at Large are also available online through GovInfo,, from 1951 to 2011. The U.S. Code is available through GovInfo,, from 1994 to 2016.


Question: Can you find me the full bill of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform?

Answer: While the question appears vague, it is a rather easy answer to find. Visit GovInfo, and perform a basic search of the bills’ authors: Dodd-Frank. Limit your results (either before or after you search) to just Public & Private Laws. You scroll for the bill’s title, “Public Law 111 – 203 – Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.” You will find the bill’s citation, overview, full draft, related documents, related citations, and a legislative history.

A basic Google search can easily retrieve the public law citation, but GovInfo is the only source for verified digital government information

Reference Guides of Understanding Public & Private Laws:

Researching Federal Statutes

Federal Statutes: A Beginners Guide

Harvard Law School Library – Statutes: US and State Code