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MSL Introduction to Legal Research: Legal Citation

Legal research assistance for MSL students writing seminar papers.

What is a Citation?

The central function of a legal citation is to allow the reader to efficiently locate the cited source. The Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation is the standard style guide for legal citation in the United States.

When writing a seminar paper, follow the Bluebook's citation forms for law review footnotes rather than those for court documents and legal memoranda. For more information, see the Bluebook's front inside cover and Rule 2.

Several Bluebooks that are available for check out are kept at the Circulation Desk.

Reading Citations

Cases have traditionally been published in books called reporters. Even though you will probably never use the books to look up a case, most case citation formats continue to be based on the location of the case in a reporter.  

For example: Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

Roe and Wade = the parties in the case
410 = the volume number
U.S. = the abbreviation of the reporter
113 = the page on which the case begins
1973 = the year the case was decided.

Since 2013, New Mexico has been one of a handful of states that uses a system of case citation that is not based on the case’s location in a reporter. You may run across both the old and new citation formats.

For example: Bianco v. Horror One Prods., 2009-NMSC-006, 145 N.M. 551

Bianco and Horror One Prods = the parties in the case
2009 = the year the case was decided
NMSC = the court that decided the case (here it is the New Mexico Supreme Court)
006 = the ordinal number of the case (here this was the 6th case the Court decided that year)
145 = the volume number
N.M. = the abbreviation of the reporter
551 = the page on which the case begins.

Common Legal Case Reporters and their Abbreviations
Abbreviation Full Title Jurisdiction
U.S. United States Report (official reporter) U.S. Supreme Court
S. Ct. Supreme Court Reporter (unofficial) U.S. Supreme Court
L. Ed., L. Ed. 2d Supreme Court Reports (unofficial) U.S. Supreme Court
F, F.2d, F.3d Federal Reporter U.S. Court of Appeals
F. Supp., F. Supp. 2d Federal Supplement U.S. District Courts
N.M. New Mexico Reports New Mexico
P., P.2d, P.3d Pacific Reporter AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY

For more information, see Bluebook Rule 10 and New Mexico Rules Annotated 23-112.

Federal Statutes

There are three distinct citations for the federal laws passed by Congress. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has the following citations: 

  • Public Law 101-336. When a law is passed, it is given a Public Law number that reflects the number of the Congress and the ordinal number of the legislation (here it was the 336th law passed by the 101st Congress).
  • 104 Stat. 327.  At the end of a congressional session, the Public Laws it passed are compiled, in chronological order, into bound books called the United States Statutes at Large, and referred to as session laws (here the law can be found in volume 104 of the set of books called the Statutes at Large, starting at page 327).
  • 42 U.S.C. § 12101. The United States Code is a topical arrangement of all the federal laws currently in effect (here 42 is the Title of the Code where this statute can be found, U.S.C. is the abbreviation of the United States Code, § is the section symbol, and 12101 is the section of title 42 where the statute can be found).

In addition, you may see the statute cited as 42 USCA § 12101 or 42 USCS § 12101. Before information was available in digital format, the only option was to find it in books.  U.S.C. is the official version published by the government but it was slow and didn’t have many editorial enhancements. USCA (United States Code Annotated) and USCS (United States Code Service) were commercial, but unofficial versions that were available more quickly and offered more search options than the official. Today, you still see these distinctions in the online world. USCA is the version of the statutes found on Westlaw and USCS is version found on LexisNexis.

For more information, see Bluebook Rule 12.

State Statutes

State codes vary greatly. In New Mexico, you will see the following statutory citations:

  • 2013 N.M. Laws, ch. 31, § 1. This is the citation for a session law.  Here the law was passed by the legislature in 2013, it is published in bound books called Laws of New Mexico, and  can be found in chapter 31, section 1.
  • NMSA 1978, § 66-7-302.1 (2013). This is the citation for the same law as above in the New Mexico Statutes Annotated which is New Mexico’s topical arrangement of all the federal laws currently in effect. Here NMSA is the abbreviation for New Mexico Statutes Annotated, 1978 is the date the NMSA was last recodified, § is the section symbol, 66 is the chapter and 7-302.1 is the section number.  

For more information, see Bluebook Rule 12 and New Mexico Rules Annotated 23-112.

The Federal Register is the daily diary of federal agency activity. Proposed and final regulations, as well as other notices and comments are published in it chronologically.

For example: Importation of Fruits and Vegetables, 60 Fed. Reg. 50,379 (Sept. 29, 1995)(to be codified at 7 C.F.R. pt. 300)

Importation of Fruits and Vegetables = common name of regulation
60 = volume number
Fed. Reg. = abbreviation of Federal Register
50,379 = page number on which regulation (or discussion of it) begins
Sept. 29, 1995 = date of the regulation
to be codified at = Where the regulation will appear in the C.F.R., if given.

The Code of Federal Regulations is a topical arrangement of the federal regulations currently in effect.

For example: 7 C.F.R. § 319.76 (1999)

7 = C.F.R. title number
C.F.R. = abbreviation of Code of Federal Regulations
§ 319.79 = section number and specific section cited
1999 = date of code edition cited.

New Mexico regulations are published in the New Mexico Administrative Code, which only exists in electronic format. Its is cited as 3.1.3.8 NMAC.

For more information, see Bluebook Rule 14 and New Mexico Rules Annotated 23-112.


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