Administrative Law Research Guide
This guide outlines the federal administrative process and materials generated.
Federal administrative law comes from the President, agencies of the Executive Branch, and independent regulatory agencies. The President issues executive orders, proclamations, and reorganization plans. Executive and independent agencies issue rules and regulations that have the force of statutory law. In addition, the agencies make administrative decisions that range in procedural format from informal and private to complex on a full judicial scale. Consequently, administrative law covers a wide variety of materials ranging from in-house memoranda to lengthy opinions written by administrative law judges. This guide describes the most important administrative materials and indicates where they are located in the library, online, and on the web.
II. PUBLICATION OF REGULATIONS
A. Federal Register
The Federal Register provides a uniform system for publishing presidential documents, regulatory documents with general applicability and legal effect, proposed and final regulations, notices, and documents required by statute to be published. Proposed and final regulations appear first in the Federal Register. In order for any administrative regulation to be legally effective, it must be published in the Federal Register.
The law library has a complete set of the Federal Register dating back to its beginning in 1936:
Federal Register Online via GPO FDsys , (1994 - )
Hein Online, (1936 - )
|Lexis||FR - Federal Register database, (1936 - )|
|Westlaw||FR database, (1936 - )|
|Microfiche||Vol. 1 (1936) - date (Media Services, Cabinets B11-B12)|
Rule 14.2 of the Bluebook sets forth the proper form for citing to the Federal Register. The following is an example of a citation to the Federal Register:
57 Fed. Reg. 18,822 (1992) (to be codified at 16 C.F.R. pt. 456).
B. Code of Federal Regulations
The Code of Federal Regulations is an annual codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad areas subject to federal regulation. Each title is revised once a year and contains the regulations in force at the time of publication. The schedule for publication is:
|Titles 1-16||January 1|
|Titles 17-27||April 1|
|Titles 28-41||July 1|
|Titles 42-50||October 1|
Title 3 of the CFR contains presidential proclamations, executive orders, and other presidential documents which are required to be published in the Federal Register.
The law library has a full set of the CFR dating back to its beginning in 1938:
Official Text, from the Government Printing Office
e-CFR: Editorial compilation from the National Archives and Records Administration with the full, updated text of the CFR
|Web (Subscription)||Hein Online, (1938 - )|
|Lexis||Current CFR: CFR database
Previous Years (back to 1981): Archived Code of Federal Regulations
|Westlaw||Current CFR: CFR database
Previous Years (back to 1984): CFRyy databases
|Paper||The current CFR is located at (KF70 .A3).|
|Microfiche||(Media Services, Cabinets B13-B14) (1938 - )|
Rule 14.2 of the Bluebook sets forth the proper form for citing to the Code of Federal Regulations. The following is an example of a citation to the Code of Federal Regulations:
15 C.F.R. § 8.1 (2011).
III. FINDING REGULATIONS
Usually research into federal regulations will begin with the Code of Federal Regulations. There are three methods that may be used to locate federal regulations:
- searching the full text online using Lexis, Westlaw, or the Web
- using a looseleaf service
- using printed indexes to the CFR and the Federal Register
The National Archives and Records Administration web site includes a detailed Federal Register Tutorial.
A. Online Services
Both the CFR and Federal Register are online in full text on Lexis, Westlaw and the Web, so full text searching is available. New issues of the Federal Register are online the day they are published.
B. Looseleaf Services
Another way to find relevant regulations is to use a looseleaf service which collects and reprints agency regulations in a particular subject area. These topical looseleaf services focus on the work of one of the major agencies and provide up-to-date, annotated texts of federal regulations in their subject areas. Note, however, that not all regulations are covered by a looseleaf service.
C. CFR Index, West's Code of Federal Regulations: General Index & CIS Index to the Code of Federal Regulations
The Code is accompanied by a volume entitled "Index and Finding Aids," most of which consists of an index of broad subject headings and agency names. Additionally, West publishes a multi-volume index to the CFR which is more extensive in indexing. West's Code of Federal Regulations: General Index is located with the CFR in the Reading Room. For historical research, a better place to start is Congressional Information Service's Index to the Code of Federal Regulations . This four volume index, which the library subscribed to from 1977 - 2001, was revised annually and provides highly detailed indexing of the CFR by subject and geographic location.
D. Federal Register Index & CIS Federal Register Index
The official Federal Register Index is published monthly and cumulated annually. It consists of a consolidation of the entries in each issue's table of contents. Entries are arranged by agency, not by subject. Within each agency's listing, rules, proposed rules, and notices are listed alphabetically by subject.
There is an annual subject index for the years 1936-1975 (KF70 .A2 Index YEAR). A much more thorough index to the Federal Register was published between 1984 and 1998 by Congressional Information Service (KF70 .A2 Index).
IV. UPDATING REGULATIONS
Once you have found relevant regulations, it is critical to update your research since some regulations are revised quite frequently.
A. Online Services
Often the fastest and easiest way to update regulations is to use Lexis or Westlaw. The revision schedule for the text of the CFR on Lexis and Westlaw is not the same quarterly revision schedule as the printed CFR. If you are citing to a CFR section, you must use the date of the printed volumes.
On Westlaw, the preliminary title information at the top of the screen will indicate how current the text if the regulation is. If a section has been amended since that date (which could be a month or more ago), there will be a note at the top of the screen indicating there is an update to the section. To get to the full text of the amending section in the Federal Register, click on the KeyCite link.
On Lexis, the full text of the CFR sections are updated more frequently than on Westlaw; however, there still may be two or more weeks that you need to check for amendments. To update regulations on Lexis, click on the "Retrieve Regulatory Impact" link.
The quarterly publication schedule for the printed volumes is followed on the GPO Access site. To update regulations on the Web, you will need to search the Federal Register site from the date of the last revision of your title to the present.
Another option for updating on the Web is the e-CFR from the National Archives and Records Administration. On this site, the text of the CFR is updated regularly with information from the Federal Register. The text is much more current than what is on the official CFR site or in the books, and even more current than Lexis, Westlaw, and looseleaf services. As amendments become effective, the changes are integrated directly into the e-CFR database. For amendments that have not yet become effective, there are links in the e-CFR database to the relevant amendments.
B. Looseleaf Services
If the subject matter of your regulation is covered by a looseleaf service, you can get the current language from the looseleaf reporter. Most reporters are updated weekly, biweekly or monthly, and they usually will indicate whether there are any proposed changes or final changes that have not yet taken effect.
C. CFR List of Sections Affected (LSA)
Regulations can also be updated using printed sources. This can be a complicated process so most researchers use one of the online or looseleaf services instead. However, if you choose to update using print sources, the following steps will give you the current text of a regulation:
- Find the text of the regulation in the CFR; note the revision date on the cover of the volume
- Check the most recent pamphlet entitled LSA: List of CFR Sections Affected (KF70 .A34). References in the LSA are to Federal Register page numbers
- Compare the date on your CFR volume to the inclusive dates listed on the title page of the LSA
- If there is a time gap between the date on your CFR volume and the coverage of the latest LSA, check the annual cumulation(s) of the LSA for your title
- Check the list of "CFR Parts Affected during [month]" in the Federal Register issue for the last day of each full month not covered by step 2
- Check the cumulative list of "CFR Parts Affected" in the last issue of the Federal Register for the current month
- Using the citations found in steps 2-4, if any, check the Federal Register issues cited to see the text of the changes
The LSA is also available on the Web.
V. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS
Substantive agency decisions are potentially available in four different places:
- full text online using Lexis and Westlaw
- the agency's Web site
- looseleaf services
- officially published reports of decisions
Publication of administrative decisions is more fragmented than rules and regulations, and there is no one place where all such decisions are located. In fact, some agencies do not publish their decisions in any format. Appendix C of Finding the Law lists the official and commercial publications (including Lexis and Westlaw) covering administrative adjudications, interpretations, and opinions of the major regulatory agencies.
A. Online Services
For most agencies, online services provide the best access to administrative decisions, although retrospective coverage varies greatly by agency. Both Lexis and Westlaw have specialized databases corresponding to most areas of law subject to agency regulation. To determine what is available online for a particular agency, check the database guides or the online indexes.
The Internet has greatly enhanced the ability to access many agency decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner. For those agencies that disseminate decisions on the Internet, decisions are usually indexed in several different ways with full text searching also available. In general, decisions that are available on the Internet are for recent years only. The University of Virginia Library has compiled a list of federal agency decisions available on the Internet.
C. Looseleaf Services
Most looseleaf services publish administrative decisions in their subject areas. The advantages to using looseleaf services over the official publications are (i) the decisions are usually available within a few weeks of the date of decision and (ii) the looseleaf services have extensive indexes and tables of cases to assist the researcher in finding relevant decisions. For older administrative decisions, looseleafs are often the only source. The Bluebook lists the major looseleaf services at pp. 343-48.
D. Officially Published Reports
Some agencies publish official reports of their decisions which resemble a standard court reporter series. The Bluebook lists the official administrative publications at pp. 187-88. Once you have the reporter's title, use GULLiver to find the call number. For most agencies, there are no indexes or digests to accompany the reporters.
VI. CITATORS FOR ADMINISTRATIVE MATERIALS
A. Code of Federal Regulations
B. Administrative Decisions
Updated 9/27/2011 (JZ)
Updated 1/29/2013 (JZ)
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