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Understanding Legal Citations: Citing to Statutes

A basic guide for interpreting and understanding citations to legal research sources.

Citing Statutes, Generally

Statutes are parts or elements of larger legislative acts and are collected into “codes.” To cite to a statute, cite to the code in which the statute appears. Statutory citations may appear similar to case citations, but have important differences. See the example below.

42 U.S.C. § 1982 (2011).

The text in green is the title number. In this case, the title is 42. Codes are often composed of a number of subjects or “titles.” More than one title may be included in a single volume of the code, and a single title may be in more than one volume of the code.

The text in red is the code series. In this case, the code is the United States Code.

The text in blue is the statute number. Statutes are often referred to as “sections” and are designated by the section symbol or “§”.

Finally, the text in orange is the year of the cited code edition. In this case, the statute is cited from the 2011 edition of the code.

Therefore, this statute can be found at section 1982 of Title 42 of the 2011 version of the United States Code. Note: not all state statutes follow this citation schematic. For more information on statutory citation, see Rule 12 or Table 1 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (2010).

Citing Federal Statutes

Federal statutes are found in one of three publications of the United States Code. The first is the United States Code and is the “official” code published by the United States Government Printing Office. In addition to the official code, there are two “unofficial” vendor published codes: the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service. The primary difference between the official and the unofficial codes is the editorial content, such as annotations and research references, which is included in the unoffical codes.

Despite the multiple publications of the United States Code, there is only one “official” code – so the title and section designations are the same regardless of which edition of the code is being cited.

Citing to the United States Code is the same regardless of which code version is cited. If citing to one of the unofficial editions of the United States Code, include the letter designation in the code abbreviation and the publisher identifier in the parenthetical. See examples below.

42 U.S.C. § 1982 (2011)

42 U.S.C.A. § 1982 (West 2011)

42 U.S.C.S. § 1982 (LexisNexis 2011)

Remember: the first number is the title number and the second number is the section or statute number. Therefore, this statute can be found at Section 1982 of Title 42 of the United States Code, the United States Code Annotated, and the United States Code Service. All three citations refer to the 2011 editions of the codes.

For more information on citing to Codes, see Rule 12 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (2010).

Citing Utah Statutes

Utah statutes are found in one of two commercially published codes. There is no “official” code for the State of Utah. One code is published by LexisNexis and the other code is published by West.

Citing to a section of the code is the same with the only difference being the publisher identifier in the parenthetical. See examples below.

Utah Code Annotated § 30-3-5 (LexisNexis 2011).

Utah Code Annotated § 30-3-5 (West 2011).

When citing to the Utah Code Annotated, list the name of the code first, then the statute number. The statute number can be found at the head of every statute. The statute number containst the title number, the chapter number, and the section or statute number. In this case, the statute can be found in Title 30, Chapter 3, Section 5 of the Utah Code Annotated.

Note the publisher designation and the year of the cited code in the end parenthetical. For more information on citing Utah statutes, See T1, p. 270, of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (2010).

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Ross McPhail
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