How to cite a law in APA Style

To cite federal laws (also commonly referred to as statutes or acts) in APA Style, include the name of the law, “U.S.C.” (short for United States Code), the title and section of the code where the law appears, the year, and optionally the URL.

The year included is when the law was published in the source consulted, not when it was passed, amended, or supplemented.

Format Name of Law, Title number U.S.C. § Section number (Year). URL
Reference entry Anti-Smuggling Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1701 (1935). https://www.loc.gov/item/uscode1958-004019005/
In-text citation (Anti-Smuggling Act, 1935)

Symbols and abbreviations in law citations

The United States Code and most other compilations of laws are divided into parts called “titles,” and within those titles, sections.

No symbol is used for the title in your reference, but the section number is preceded by the symbol §. To insert the section symbol in Word, click on “Insert,” “Symbol,” “More symbols,” “Special characters,” and then find it in the list under “section.”

When a law is spread across multiple consecutive sections, the term “et seq.” (Latin for “and following”) is added after the initial section number. It is always italicized and followed by a period.

Reference entry with “et seq.”
Fess–Kenyon Act, 29 U.S.C. § 31 et seq. (1920).

Citing federal statutes with the public law number

A law may also have a public law number. This is not used in the citation, except in special cases: when the law is not (yet) included in the United States Code, or when it is spread across non-consecutive parts of the Code.

Laws not included in the Code

A law that has not been codified (published in the United States Code) should be cited using its public law number and information about wherever it was published.

The law below was published in the United States Statutes at Large, which is abbreviated to “Stat.”

Format Name of Law, Pub. L. No. Number, Volume number Source Page number (Year). URL
Reference entry Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-2, 123 Stat. 5 (2009). https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/PLAW-111publ2/pdf/PLAW-111publ2.pdf
In-text citation (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, 2009)

Laws spread across different sections

When an act is codified across different non-consecutive sections of the Code, it is also cited using the public law number and information about its location in the Statutes at Large.

The example below was codified in titles 2, 28, and 42 of the Code, so it is cited using the public law number instead.

Format Name of Law, Pub. L. No. Number, Volume number Source Page number (Year). URL
Reference entry Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub. L. No. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241 (1964). https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-78/pdf/STATUTE-78-Pg241.pdf
In-text citation (Civil Rights Act, 1964)

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Citing state laws

The laws and statutes of individual states are cited in a similar format to federal laws where possible. “U.S.C.” is replaced with an abbreviation for the law code of that state, and titles and sections are presented in the same way. However, some state codes use article or chapter numbers instead of or in addition to section numbers, or do not use titles.

Make sure to adapt your reference to the standards of the state. For example, the title for a law from the Virginia Code is included with the section number, separated by a hyphen, as shown in this example.

Format Name of Law, Title number Source § Section number (Year). URL
Reference entry Community Action Act, Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-5400 (2020). https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacodepopularnames/community-action-act/
In-text citation (Community Action Act, 2020)

Frequently asked questions about APA Style citations

Should I cite laws using public law numbers in APA Style?

Generally, you should identify a law in an APA reference entry by its location in the United States Code (U.S.C.).

But if the law is either spread across various sections of the code or not featured in the code at all, include the public law number in addition to information on the source you accessed the law in, e.g.:

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-2, 123 Stat. 5 (2009).

No, including a URL is optional in APA Style reference entries for legal sources (e.g. court cases, laws). It can be useful to do so to aid the reader in retrieving the source, but it’s not required, since the other information included should be enough to locate it.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 11, 2021 at 3:27 PM

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