The United States Constitution creates a federal government comprised of three separate and equal branches, and each are sources of law: legislative, executive, and judicial.  In addition to the information below, the Law Library of Congress provides a helpful guide to federal legal materials.


The Constitution is the founding document for the United States federal government. The text of the Constitution is available in numerous resources, including:

  • American Memory (Library of Congress) Find documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (1774-1789), includes images of original documents and related materials. 
  • Founder’s Constitution (University of Chicago Press) Provides links to historical documents related to the development of the Constitution. 
  • LII: CRS Annotated Constitution Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, provides links to Supreme Court opinions, the U.S. Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • National Archives Images of original documents and historical information. 

Executive Branch:

See also Law Library Research Guide: Federal Administrative Law

The power of the executive branch is vested in the President, who also serves as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The President appoints the Cabinet and oversees the various agencies and departments of the federal government. While federal administrative agencies are given the scope of their authority by Congress, they are part of the Executive Branch.  

Executive Orders & Other Presidential Documents

Presidential documents include executive orders and proclamations. These may be found in the Federal Register and in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The most comprehensive source for presidential documents is the Compilation of Presidential Documents (consists of weekly and daily compilations). This contains executive orders and proclamations as well as nominations, announcements, transcripts of speeches, and press conferences. Another useful resource containing a variety of presidential documents is the Public Papers of the Presidents.

Judicial Branch:

The judicial branch hears cases that challenge or require interpretation of the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President. It consists of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is the most visible of all the federal courts. The number of Justices is determined by Congress, and since 1869, the Court has been composed of one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal

U.S. District Courts  

Legislative Branch:

See also Law Library Research Guide: Federal Legislative History

The legislative branch of the federal government consists of the Congress, which is divided into two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. When Congress passes a bill into law, the document is given a Public Law Number (ex. P.L. 100-53 refers to the 53rd law passed by the 100th Congress). Public laws are then published, chronologically, in the United States Statutes at Large (Stat.). The statutes are then codified---organized by subject---in the United States Code. The Office of Law Revision Counsel is responsible for codification.

Last Updated February 7, 2017