Administrative agencies have published documents related to
regulatory activities since 1789, but before the height of the New Deal, there
was no standardized method of communicating these regulations to the public. In
fact, it took a controversial Supreme Court case, United States v. Smith, 293 U.S. 633 (1934) – in which the
defendants were jailed for conspiracy to violate a non-existent regulation – to
lead to the passage of the Federal Register Act, Pub. L. 74-220.
The first issue of the Federal Register appeared on March
16, 1936. Since then, it has been the official source for rules, proposed
rules, and notices of regulatory agencies. It also contains executive orders
and other presidential documents and is published daily on weekdays with the
exception of Federal holidays.
This week, the U.S. Government Publication Office (GPO)
announced that it is planning to digitize every issue of the Federal Register –
some 14,587 issues – which will be included in the main federal government
information portal, FDsys. Currently, FDsys
only contains digital
copies of the Federal Register from 1994 to the present. UNC students,
faculty members, and staff have had access to earlier issues in the HeinOnline Federal Register
Library, and members of the public could use Law Library microfiche copies of
the earlier content, but we suspect that once this digitization project is
completed, free online access will be more convenient for our patrons and for
members of the public alike. The GPO expects to finish the project in 2016.
Until then (and even after!), feel free to ask a law librarian for
help with administrative law research!
And for the curious, you can find further reading below:
For in-depth treatment of researching
administrative law and the history of the Federal Register, see Chapter 5 of
Kent C. Olson, Principles of Legal Research 2d., available in the Law Library’s
Study Aids Collection on the 4th Floor at KF240 .O57 2015.
Law Librarians’ Society of Washington D.C.
Legislative Sourcebook has a legislative
history of Federal Register Act (), 49 Stat. 500 (1935).
The Office of the Federal Register produced an
institutional history of the publication () on the occasion of its 70th
anniversary in 2006.
You can also read the announcement
of the digitization project () from the GPO, released on October 14, 2015.
Posted by Aaron S. Kirschenfeld on Thu. October 15, 2015 1:22 PM