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June 09, 2011


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Statutory locator

The purpose of the year is to locate the statute. Because things move around, knowing the year on the spine will help you figure out where to go to find that provision in whatever edition of the printed code is available to you -- or better yet, why it may not be where you think it should be in the most recent printed code. Can't help you if the law journal staff miss the boat...

David S. Cohen

I guess I'm ignorant - in what way does the year help you locate the statute? I've been locating statutes for 17 years now and never once needed a year to do so.

Marc Miller

The year is helpful when a article cites historical statutes, old codes, repealed provisions, etc. Not, of course, if the wrong year is put in.

Jessica Owley

I vaguely understand why we include the year so someone reading our article in 50 years can look at the same version of the statute that we used, but I agree that most editors struggle with this rule. It can be relatively straightforward to figure out years for the USC or CFR, but no one I have asked understands how to figure out the year for state laws.

Also, when I was practicing/clerking, we never included the year for statutory citations.

Bill Turnier

Occasionally subsections within get moved and what was once 127(c) becomes 127(f) several years later. Having the year let's the reader/researcher determine what was the object of your concern. I should add that restructurings such as I noted mess you up when you seek to learn what has happened to present 127(f). You must look up both and carefully discern what you are dealing with.

David S. Cohen

Jack - agreed that it can be helpful in that context, but isn't that the year of the statute's creation, not the year the book was published? And if, for some reason the year the book was published is the useful information, couldn't that be something reserved for a special parenthetical?

Jessica - wouldn't the person reading it in 50 years know that you were looking at the statute that was in effect on the date of publication?

Bill - kind of the same response. Wouldn't a special parenthetical be appropriate for this?

I guess what I'm getting at is that for most statutory citations, I'd venture a guess and say well north of 99% of them, the specialized circumstances you are describing here wouldn't have any relevance. All you are doing with most cites to statutes is showing that there is a statute in existence which says X. The year on the spine of the book has nothing to do with that claim. If your citation is one of those very small number of cases in which the book year actually does, then a parenthetical explaining such would be useful. But, for the run of the mill statutory cite, it still seems completely irrelevant.

James Grimmelmann

A citation to anything requires identifying the source sufficiently that someone else following in your footsteps can pull a source and be confident that they're looking at the same thing. A code title and section number by themselves don't provide sufficient information, because codes are amended in place. The same section number can refer to different text at different points in time. (In contrast, a reporter volume and page, or a Federal Register volume and page, or a periodical issue and page will never change once published.) The year suffices to identify what you cited uniquely, because printed codifications are issued yearly or less frequently. If I today cite the CFR as published by the GPO, I could be citing a volume published in 2011 or one published in 2010.

Now, in many cases, the year of publication is irrelevant because what you're really saying is, "I cited the most recent version, and either it's obvious from context what version it is, or it doesn't make a difference because the statute isn't changing in relevant part." That said, eEven a rule that no listed year means the "most recent" version requires knowing what day of the year the article was published, and knowing when during the year a codification of the code being cited was published. It also creates annoying race conditions in the run-up to publication; you'd need to watch the GPO to make sure you don't need to recheck your citations if they push out a new edition between page proofs and going to the printer.

The year is usually annoying and distracting and the rule will probably need to be updated as we increasingly move away from printed sources, but I wouldn't call it "complete" nonsense.


Okay, I'll take a shot.

For the United States Code (USC), the Bluebook preference is to cite the print version as well as the official version. The official version of the USC is published every 6 years and it is updated annually with a cumulative supplement (Supplements I, II, III, IV, and V). The current version of the official USC is the 2006 edition. The unofficial print versions of the USC (West's United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service by LexisNexis) do not have the same publication pattern as the official United States Code. The unofficial versions are not what the rule is all about and the rule makes sense when you understand that the Bluebook's preference is to cite the official print version of the USC.

As an aside, a vexing problem is that the Office of the Law Revision Counsel along with the GPO are rather slow in actually publishing the print editions of the main volumes and supplements for the USC; however, on the Office of Law Revision Counsel's web site they do have Supplement IV 2010 in PDF.

The Bluebook rule for statutory codes exists so that you can locate that version of the statutory section that the article is discussing. Let's say you wrote a law review article in 2007 that discusses a statutory section of the USC that can be found in the main volumes of the 2006 edition of the USC. That statutory section was subsequently amended in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Let's say that the 2010 amendment significantly changed the statutory section. I am now reading your article in June 2011 and I'd like to retrieve the version of the statutory section that your article discusses. I would think that the year required by the Bluebook rule is relevant in situations like this where a statutory section has been amended.

I suppose I could look at the historical source note that follows the statutory section and try to figure stuff out, but the Bluebook rule makes it much easier.

Curiously enough, I believe that the Bluebook rule for citing court rules and the like (including the FRCP, FRE, etc.) is significantly different because you don't supply the year if you are citing the current version of the court rules. If you are citing older versions of the court rules that are no longer in effect, then I believe you supply the year. I'm doing this by recall because I don't have a Bluebook in front of me - so I could be wrong on the rule for court rules.

Does that make sense?


Jessica wrote: It can be relatively straightforward to figure out years for the USC or CFR, but no one I have asked understands how to figure out the year for state laws.

Well, it depends on the state. Some official print state statutory codes are published biennially with annually supplements. For example, I believe the current edition of the Revised Code of Washington (the official print version) was published in 2010 - it on the spine of the 10+ volumes. At the end of this year, we will have a 1 or 2 volume supplement that has Supplement 2011 on the spine of each volume.

Unfortunately, not all official state statutory codes are published like Washington. Table T.1 of the Bluebook lists all of the official print versions of the state statutory codes but it doesn't list how often they are published.

I still think you have to look at the Bluebook rule for citing statutory codes in light of the Bluebook's preference for the official print versions of the codes.


I agree that student editors (as well as student cite checkers) are absolutely clueless regarding this rule and their first and only instinct is to go on Westlaw or LexisNexis to get the statutory section and to verify the citation's year.

Compounding things are that most academic law libraries don't have the official print versions of the state statutory codes. They might have print versions of the unofficial commercially published state statutory codes in print but not the official ones; however, due to budget cuts many academic law libraries are cutting these print versions and relying solely on Westlaw, LexisNexis, or the free online versions of the state statutory codes.

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