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Zimmerman's Research Guide


Code of Federal Regulations

Final regulations promulgated by Federal administrative agencies are first published in the Federal Register and then codified in the multi-volume Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The GPO posts an electronic edition of the official CFR, as well as an unofficial but more current e-CFR. The official CFR is also accessible through Cornell's Legal Information Institute, FDsys and FindLaw. Fee-based providers include Lexis (GENFED;CFR), Westlaw (CFR), Loislaw and Versuslaw.

To pull a CFR section off Lexis or Westlaw, use the format: 47 CFR 22.137.

One quarter of the print CFR is updated in each quarter of the year (schedule posted here). The official electronic version provided by the GPO follow this pattern too. However, Westlaw, Lexis and the free e-CFR integrate new Final regulations into the text of their CFR editions throughout the year, so the e-CFR is usually just a day or two shy of current; the the Westlaw and Lexis versions are usually just a little behind that.

Updating the CFR: Usually I avoid the need to update the CFR by using the e-CFR, but sometimes you might want to start with the official CFR and bring it up-to-date. One free and relatively easy way to do this is to find up the section in the CFR edition by the Legal Information Institute, click on the "Currency" tab, and you will either see that the section is current or you will get links to the Federal Register pages where the section has been changed. You can also do this by getting a KeyCite report on the relevant CFR section(s) from Westlaw.

Alternatively, the traditional way to update the official CFR is to check the "List of CFR Section Affected" published in each issue of the Federal Register since the section in question was last updated. You can do this with the print issues (if you have them) or on FDsys. Note: To update the CFR on FDsys, the GPO says, "We prefer consulting the List of Parts Effected .... Just 'Choose Date Range' in the pull down menu. Enter the date when your title was last updated in the Annual Code of Federal Regulations and today's date. This search will link to the Federal Register page whenever a change has been made to your Title and Part since the Annual Code of Regulations was last updated."

If you would have to look through many issues, search the section number in the electronic "List of CFR Section Affected" on FDsys, with the date restricted appropriately. Alternatively, you can use FDsys to compile all the new regulations since the section was last affected, and then look through the new regulations that affect your Title and Part of the CFR.

Index/Finding sections by subject matter: There is a fairly poor Index volume at the end of the print CFR. Westlaw publishes a better multi-volume index, which is available in print or through the RegulationsPlus feature on Westlaw. Alternatively, you can search for a subject using key terms in any of the electronic CFR editions discussed above.

Relation to the U.S. Code: To find out which CFR sections were authorized by a given section of the United States Code, you can:

  • Search the GPO's e-CFR using the format "__ U.S.C. __" with the pull-down menu switched to the "Authority" field. I have found this to be fast, free and generally effective.
  • Search for the USC section in a CFR database on Lexis (GENFED;FEDREG) or Westlaw (CFR), LOIS, Versuslaw, Quicklaw America or any other good CFR database.
  • Pull up the USC section on Westlaw and look in the ResultsPlus column for Administrative Code.
  • Use the GPO's Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules, which is also published in the "Index and Finding Aids to Code of Federal Regulations" volume at the end of the United States Code Service. This is the most official tool, but it does not necessarily get all the related CFR sections.
  • Call the relevant administrative agency, because the USCS & CFR Tables, even keyword searching, may not be comprehensive and are always at least a little behind the times. Do this in addition to the ideas above when you have to be 100% accurate.

Relation to Case Law: To get cases related to a particular section of the CFR, Shepardize it, using hard copy or Lexis or use KeyCite on Westlaw. Also, if you bring up a section on Westlaw, you can see case annotations in the "Regulations Plus" column.

Historical Editions: Historical editions of the CFR are available from:

  • FDsys back to 1996 (free);
  • Lexis has a CFR Archive database (CODES;CFRARC) containing editions back to 1981 (fee-based);
  • Westlaw has individual databases for old CFRs back to 1984 (CFRxx, with the Xs being the last two digits of the year), and "Results Plus" lets you pull up a version as it existed on a particular date (fee-based);
  • HeinOnline has historical editions covering 1938 to 1983 (subscription);
  • Proquest Congressional has a searchable archive of CFR editions back to 1981; information available here (subscription);
  • Some large law libraries keep historical CFRs, either in hard copy or on microfiche or microfilm.

Proposed Regulations: To find the text of a proposed regulation, search the Federal Register (see "Federal Register"). If you know the final version is already in the CFR, check the preamble of the final reg. This often has the Federal Register cite where the proposed reg. was published. Otherwise, search on the "RIN" number listed at the beginning of the regulation in a CFR database ? that is a unique identifier that should bring up all the documents associated with that regulation.

Statement of Considerations: The term "Statement of Considerations" or "SOCs" (pronounced "socks") effectively means the preamble, appendices and other materials that the agency published in the Federal Register before and after proposed and final regulations that created and amended a CFR section. I have heard the term used only with regard to regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Appendices, Citing to: As of 2010, the Bluebook did not have a rule for citing to an Appendix in the CFR. John Cannan explores the options in "Beyond the Pale: Finding Your Way Back From a Citation Netherworld," 53(4) Law Library Lights 14 (Summer 2010).

See also entries for individual agencies. For further discussion of Federal regulations see Fundamentals of Legal Research (West).

See Also
Federal Register
Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs)
Federal Regulations
State Regulations and Administrative Codes
United States Government Agencies

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman