In the United States, constitutions and statutes are structured in a way that allows citation of relevant provisions without regard to how any particular version or edition has been printed or electronically distributed. In this fundamental sense, they are and long have been vendor- and medium-neutral. That is because articles, sections, clauses, and subsections rather than volumes and page numbers identify specific passages. This holds for such similar legal materials as local ordinances, on the one hand, and international agreements, on the other. While these several types of legal materials share this structural quality, constitutions and statutes differ dramatically from one another in one key respect frequency of change. The compiled enactments of Congress and the legislatures of the states are constantly subject to amendment. This reality raises a risk, albeit not a large one in most situations, that the text of the statute to which a writer refers and the text consulted by a reader following the writer's citation, at some later date, may be differentor that the provisions governing the question being addressed are not those current in effect. These risks are a consequence of the possibility of intervening legislative change per se compounded by the amount of time it takes the respective publishers or disseminators to enter legislative changes in their statutory compilations. Addressing these possibilities calls for both writer and reader to pay serious attention to the date of the compilation relied on by the writer. The reader will assume that a citation to the provisions of a constitution or codified statute is referring to the version in force at the time the writing was prepared unless it includes a date element that indicates otherwise.
The relevant citation principles follow; section 3-300 provides both basic examples and samples from all major U.S. jurisdictions.
For a quick start introduction or review, there is also a companion video tutorial, “Citing Constitutional and Statutory Provisions ... in Brief”:
It runs 14 minutes.
2-310 Examples Window (restore)
Principle: A citation to a provision of either the federal or a state constitution consists of two elements:
(a) - The name of the constitution
(The name consists of the abbreviation of the jurisdiction e.g., U.S. for United States, N.Y. for New York (§ 4-500) and "Const.") «e.g.»
(b) - The cited part
(Parts often include articles (abbreviated "art."), amendments (abbreviated "amend.") and clauses (abbreviated "cl."), in addition to sections (§).) «e.g.»
No punctuation separates the name of the constitution from the first part identifier; commas separate successive subparts. Nothing is italicized or underlined. No date is required unless the citation is to a provision or version of the constitution no longer in effect «e.g.».
Statutory provisions are, whenever possible, cited to compilations. For any single U.S. jurisdiction, there is usually a single codification scheme, ordering sections into topically clustered units, even though there may be multiple versions of the code or compilation, print and electronic, public and commercial. Until the recent proliferation of electronic sources, citation norms favored citation to one particular print compilation for each jurisdiction. Most citation manuals still appear to do so, but practice is rapidly adjusting to the reality that electronic compilations are in general more up-to-date and therefore more widely used than print ones, that in most jurisdictions no single version is universally relied upon, and that up-to-date print compilations from other jurisdiction are maintained in very few law libraries.
2-320(1) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 1: The core of a citation to a codified federal statutory provision consists of three elements:
Element (a) - The title number followed by a space and "U.S.C." (for "United States Code") «e.g.»
Element (b) - The section number preceded by the section symbol and space «e.g.»
(c) - Date
If the provision being cited is currently in effect and has not been the subject of recent change, no date element need be included. However, if the provision being cited has, by the time of writing, been repealed or amended or if it has only recently been enacted, the date of a compilation that contains the language cited should be provided in parentheses. «e.g.» The precise form this takes will be governed by the form in which that compilation presents its cutoff date.
No punctuation separates these elements. Nothing is italicized or underlined.
¡But see § 2-335!
2-320(2) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 2: The core of a citation to a codified state statutory provision consists of the same basic elements in a slightly different order. Unlike citations to the U.S. Code which begin with a title number, references to most state codes lead off with the name of the state code (abbreviated):
Element (a) - The name of code (abbreviated) «e.g.»
Element (b) - The number of the section or part, using the division identifiers of the jurisdiction's code (In some states major divisions of the code are designated by name rather than by number.) «e.g.»
(c) - Date
If the provision being cited is currently in effect and has not been the subject of recent change, no date element need be included. However, if the provision being cited has, by the time of writing, been repealed or amended or if it has only recently been enacted, the date of a compilation that contains the language cited should be provided in parentheses. The precise form this takes will be governed by the form in which that compilation presents its cutoff date. «e.g.»
¡But see § 2-335!
2-330(1) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 1: If possible, the reference should be given in generic format using the framework of the the jurisdiction's designated "official" codification such as the United States Code or Iowa Code. If an unofficial commercial codification is relied upon, it is customary to use that product's branded abbreviation if different from the official code (U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. rather than U.S.C.; Iowa Code Ann. rather than Iowa Code) and to place the publisher's name, brand, or online source (abbreviated) ahead of the date information in a concluding parenthetical «e.g.».
¡But see § 2-335!
2-330(2) Examples Window (restore)
Principle 2: The reader of a statutory citation will expect that it refers to the statute as currently in force unless the reference says otherwise. If that is not the case or the provision has only recently been enacted, a date for the compilation relied upon should be furnished. The precise form this takes will be governed by the form in which that compilation presents date information. «e.g.»
¡But see § 2-335!
2-335(1) Examples Window (restore)
Point 1: Both The Bluebook and the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation direct a writer to cite to a publicly produced or supervised statutory compilation (generally referred to as an "official" code) if the provisions referred to are contained in it. In other cases, conventional practice, encouraged by the major publishers and reflected in both citation guides, is to identify the publisher of a commercially produced statutory compilation, and, with the two principal annotated versions of the United States Code, to use abbreviations of their brand names (U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.). Especially, as sources and versions have multiplied, however, usage has moved toward the citing of statutes by means of their generic or "official" designation without regard to the source actually used by the writer. If followed rigorously, this approach involves dropping the superfluous notation ("Ann."), which simply indicates that the code relied upon was annotated, and leaving the publisher's name or brand out of the concluding parentheses «e.g.». The existence or nonexistence of annotations in the compilation relied on by the writer has no bearing on the statutory language itself, and, as a consequence of the shifts in ownership and branding that have occurred in commercial law publishing and the divergence between print and electronic versions of compilations bearing the same brand, references to "the publisher" are no longer straightforward.
While this is the practice of nearly all appellate courts and most lawyers, neither The Bluebook nor the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation goes so far. While both remove branding elements from the name of state (but not federal) statutory compilations, they still include references to the publisher in a concluding parenthetical. Both manuals also include "Ann." when the cited code is annotated.
To illustrate, the official compilation of Indiana statutes is regularly cited "Ind. Code § x." According to The Bluebook and the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation citations to the commercial compilation of Indiana statutes long known as "Burns Indiana Statutes Annotated" should take the form "Ind. Code Ann. § x (LexisNexis year)" while those to "West's Annotated Indiana Code" should read "Ind. Code Ann. § x (West year)."
2-335(2) Examples Window (restore)
Point 2: While it is the practice in the opinions of and briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and a majority of state courts to omit any date element from statute citations unless the provisions have been or are likely to be subject to amendment, both The Bluebook and the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation call for the routine inclusion of the year or some alternative indication of the cited compilation's cutoff date. Very likely this reflects the degree to which they remain bound by a print paradigm and their prime focus on law journal publication.
2-335(3) Examples Window (restore)
Point 3: A standard and recurring component of state statute and regulation citations is an abbreviation of the state name. One area of citation practice on which there is widespread state variation is the abbreviation of a state's code when cited by or to that state's own courts. The abbreviations used on the examples in this introduction (§ 3-320), like the two dominant national citation references, are full enough to distinguish unambiguously between a citation to a provision of the Alaska Statutes and one to a similarly numbered section of the codes of Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas. When context leaves little or no doubt about which state's statutes are being cited, the case with briefs submitted to and decisions rendered by the courts of a particular state, significant citation space can saved with little or no loss by having the state name supplied by implication «e.g.». In decisions of the Alaska Supreme Court and briefs submitted to it, "AS" is commonly used instead of "Alaska Stat."; in Kentucky it is understood that "KRS" stands for "Kentucky Revised Statutes" and not statutes of the state of Kansas. At the extreme, this form of state-specific citation dialect leaves off all explicit reference to the state. A reference in an Ohio brief to "R.C." is understood as referring to Ohio's "Revised Code"; one in a New York brief to a section of the "General Municipal Law" and one in a California brief to a section of the "Penal Code" are understood as referring to the respective state's codified statutes.
2-340(1) Examples Window (restore)
Special Case 1 Session Laws: Don't cite a statute to the session laws (the compiled enactments of a legislative body during a particular session) if a codified version will serve your purposes. This principle confines session law citations to:
A session law reference consists of: the name of the statute (or if not named "Act of [date]"), its public law number ("Pub. L. No.") or equivalent state designation, and the source. In the case of a recent enactment this will most likely be electronic «e.g.». See § 2-110. Where a print source is used the reference consists of a volume or year number followed by the name of the publication, abbreviated ("Stat." or "U.S.C.C.A.N." in the case of a federal act) and a page number «e.g.». The year of enactment, in parentheses, is included in cases where that information is important and it has not already appeared as part of the name.
¡But see § 2-335!
2-340(2) Examples Window (restore)
Special Case 2 Bills: Bills are cited either when they support a point about the legislative history of an enactment or when the reference concerns proposed legislation that was not enacted.
2-340(3) Examples Window (restore)
Special Case 3 Named Acts: Some statutes are commonly referred to by name, and in a number of these cases, section references from the original legislation are still widely used. Such references should never substitute for a core reference to the legislation as codified, «e.g.» but they can be added to it.
Special Case 4 The Internal Revenue Code: An important exception to the general norms for citation of federal statutes allows (but does not require) references to the Internal Revenue Code to be in the form: I.R.C. § ___. This is a substitute for 26 U.S.C. § ___.
2-340(5) Examples Window (restore)
Special Case 5 Uniform Acts and Model Codes: When a uniform act or model act or code has been adopted by a state and is being referred to as the law of that state, it is cited like any other state law. When a reference is to the uniform law or model code apart from its adoption and interpretation in a particular state, the citation should consist of the name of the uniform law or code (as abbreviated), section number, and the year that law or code (or major subpart) was promulgated or last amended «e.g.». In the case of uniform laws a parallel citation to the Uniform Laws Annotated (U.L.A.) may be helpful «e.g.».
2-350 Examples Window (restore)
Ordinances governing cities, towns, or counties are cited like statutes. Just as the standard form for a citation to a state statute includes the name of the state (abbreviated), an ordinance citation is prefaced by the name of the political subdivision it governs «e.g.».
2-360 Examples Window (restore)
Principle 1: The core of a citation to a treaty, international convention, or other international agreement consists of three elements:
Element (a) - The name of the treaty or agreement «e.g.»
Element (b) - The date of signing or approval «e.g.»
Element (c) - A source for the text likely to be accessible to the reader «e.g.»
Principle 2: Three additional elements may be appropriate:
Element (a) - Conventions that are the product of an international organization should either include the organization's name as part of the name of the agreement or be preceded by that name. «e.g.»
Element (b) - So long as there are no more than three parties to the agreement, their names (abbreviated) should be listed, set off by commas and separated by hyphens, following the agreement's name. «e.g.»
Element (c) - When citing to a portion of the agreement, the cited subdivision, as designated in the agreement, should be included directly following the treaty name and parties, if listed. «e.g.»