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Locating a State Constitution: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis, instructional librarian, and Robert Brammer, senior legal information specialist

One of our most frequent requests from patrons is for assistance with their constitutional research, particularly with regard to state constitutions.  While the best resource for information is likely the state library and/or state archives of the state that created the constitution of interest, we are happy to assist.  Below, please find more information about researching state constitutions, both current and historic.

Current State Constitutions

To locate a current state constitution, you can look in your state’s statute collection (often called “codes”). State codes generally print the constitution in the first volume of the collection.

To locate a print copy of a state’s code, you will first want to determine the title that has been given to the statute collection.  This information can be found in table form in the legal citation manual The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, but for those without access to The Bluebook, state-by-state information can be found on the Law Library of Congress website, through our Guide to Law Online, or on the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute website.

Extract from the reconstructed Constitution of the state of Louisiana, with portraits of the distinguished members of the Convention & Assembly, A.D. 1868. Print of a lithograph. (Published 1868). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05947

Extract from the reconstructed Constitution of the state of Louisiana, with portraits of the distinguished members of the Convention & Assembly, A.D. 1868. Print of a lithograph. (Published 1868). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05947

Once you have the title of the state’s statute collection, you can find a copy in a library near you by using the WorldCat catalog.  Simply search for the statute collection by title on the WorldCat Advanced Search page, and choose an item from the results page.  You can determine which libraries closest to you have the item by entering your zip code or city and state (and if international, your city and country) into the “Enter your location” search box under the “Find a copy in the library” section of the item’s catalog entry.

Additionally, there are some resources that collect the constitutions of all the states, including:

Further, many state governments make a copy of the current edition of their constitution available on the state’s official website.  You can locate your state’s online copy of the constitution through the Guide to Law Online.

Historic State Constitutions

Sometimes our researchers would prefer to see superseded or historical versions of state constitutions.  There are two main collections that contain historical state constitutions:

More information about state historical constitutional documents, including pre-prepared bibliographies, can be found by searching the subject headings Constitutions–United States–States and Constitutions–United States–States–Bibliography.

You can locate later constitutions in print by searching for your state name and the word “constitution” in our catalog. You can also use the catalog to browse subject headings. Click “search options,” “browse,” and use the drop-down to select “SUBJECTS beginning with” or “SUBJECTS containing,” and then input a subject heading using one of the examples shown below. Finally, click on a result and you can browse the materials classified under that subject heading.

Researchers might consider using the following subject headings to find more resources:

  • Constitutional law–[State Name]
  • Constitutions–[State Name]
  • Constitution–[State Name]
  • Session Laws–[State Name][1]

Finally, for patrons attempting to determine how different state constitutions have historically approached different topics, legal researchers have collected different subject-based indexes, including:

We hope this helps you with your research. If you have any further questions, please use our Ask A Librarian service.

 

[1] Session laws are the laws enacted by a legislature in any specific session, arranged chronologically. These session law collections are usually similar in setup to the federal United States Statutes at Large publication, which is described further in our Federal Statutes: A Beginner’s Guide post. Historical constitutions or constitutional provisions are typically available in the state’s session law collection.

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