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How to Cite a Statute


Law students and attorneys must master the art of legal citation. Legal citation refers to the proper reference of cases, statutes and other legal authorities. Statutes are laws enacted by state legislatures or by Congress. Citing statutes can pose problems because laws are often found in several forms -- session laws, bills and codes -- and you can find the same law in several forms. Law schools and courts adopt several style guides to ensure that lawyers and students cite statutes in a uniform manner.

Choose a citation style. The citation style that you choose will depend on several factors, including if your law school has a set style for all work submitted in classes; whether the journal to which you will submit your article has a preferred legal citation system; or whether the court where you will submit the brief uses a specific citation format. Two examples of legal citation systems are Bluebook and the American Psychological Association, or APA, style.

Find the citation guidelines in your chosen citation system for statutes. Citation systems like APA and Bluebook have specific rules for how to cite a statute. Most legal citation systems will list each of the components necessary to include in your citation, including the name of the law, the section number and the year of enactment.

Locate the elements listed in the citation guidelines in the statute that you are citing. For example, APA style guidelines state that you must have certain components for a citation to a federal statute, which are the name of the act; the public law number; the section of the act referenced; and the year enacted.

List each of the elements in the order the guidelines dictate. In APA, you must give the name of the law, followed by a comma. Next, you give the public law number, using the abbreviation "Pub. L. No." followed by the numeric number. You then use the section sign (§) and the relevant section number followed by a comma. The next portion of the citation is the volume number and the abbreviation "Stat." followed by the page number. Finally, you give the year of the enactment in parenthesis. For example, a proper APA statute situation is: Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, § 2, 104 Stat. 328 (1991).

Determine the proper placement of the citation -- in the text or in a footnote. Unlike most social science citations, many law journals prefer that citations appear in a footnote rather than in the text. Nonetheless, in certain cases, you may have to place the citation within the text of the article.

About the Author

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.

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