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Comparing State Laws and Constitutions

This guide contains resources and information on comparing laws from multiple states on a particular topic.

Introduction

Introduction

Legal researchers are often called upon to compare laws from multiple states on a particular topic. Comparing a few states is straightforward, but a comprehensive survey of state laws is notoriously tedious to compile. Before beginning, it is worthwhile to find out if a survey on your topic already exists.

This brief guide lists selected sources that either themselves compare state constitutions and statutes, point to the location of comparisons, or that aggregate state constitutions or statutes together for searching. Because state laws change frequently, previously compiled surveys are quickly outdated. Even with a survey in hand, the careful researcher must ultimately locate and review each statute they wish to compare in its current form.

For assistance in creating a survey, locating a previously compiled survey, or updating a survey, please see the Getting Help tab on this page or chat with us via the chat box to the left.

State Statutes by Topic

Sources Comparing State Statutes By Topic

Often the best starting point for this sort of comparative research is a secondary source that compiles state statutes by topic, making it easy to see how different states approach a specific area of law.  Below are several potential sources for these compilations.

50-State Surveys (Westlaw password required)
This database contains surveys of state laws on a broad range of topics and is searchable by keyword.  Users can also browse the Table of Contents.  The surveys provide citations, usually linked, but may not include explanatory text. Source material is derived from Richard Leiter’s National Survey of State Laws as well as surveys compiled by West editors.  You can also set up a separate tab on Westlaw which collects multiple 50-State Survey resources.

50 State Multi-Jurisdictional Surveys (LexisNexis password required)
This searchable database contains surveys of state laws and regulations on a range of topics.  It is also possible to search with sub-divisions of the database.
 
Subject Compilations of State Laws
This HeinOnline database provides access to a variety of sources that compile state law by topic.  It is both browseable and searchable.  It also provides links to outside sources with additional state law comparisons.  This resource is also available in print (Call Number: Reference KF1 .S92).  The print version is non-cumulative so to be thorough, researchers must check many volumes.
 
National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a huge number of substantive, comparative articles on state laws. Typically, activities of states at the forefront of the issue are highlighted on the website, and for many topics there are tables and databases listing state laws and bills with citations.

Federation of Tax Administrators: State Comparisons
This website provides summaries and tables comparing state tax rates, state revenues and burdens, tax amnesty programs, sales taxation of services and other state tax issues.

Tax Facts
This is another website that focuses on comparing tax rates and laws in various states.

National Association of Secretaries of State
The National Association of Secretaries of State provides a comparative look at issues related to state voting and elections through surveys and short reports.

Cornell LII - Topical Index: State Statutes
This website collects state statutes that are available online and organizes them by topic.

FindLaw - State Laws: Browse by Topic
FindLaw offers a "Browse by Topic" section of their larger state law feature which provides summaries of state laws with citations, and where possible links, to the relevant statutory sections.

Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest (LexisNexis password required or in print at Reference KF 190.M36)
Part of the famous Martindale-Hubbell legal directory, the Law Digest volumes have uniformly organized explanations of major legal topics in each state with citations.  This volume is no longer being printed, but it is available on LexisNexis.  Law Digests are also available for prior years, 1868 forward, in microform. See Martindale-Hubbell U.S. Law Directory Microform Room, Drawer 207. 

Sharp & Alleman's Lawyers Directory Harvard Depository.
See "Availability" and click on Request to retrieve from storage using Harvard ID and PIN.
Good only for historical research. Published 1883 to 1925. The library is missing several volumes. At the beginning of each state, there is an abstract of laws with brief explanations of many topics. Also see the later series, simply called The Lawyers Directory, covering 1927-1964.

Covenants Not To Compete: A State-By-State Survey    
This frequently updated book (its in its Seventh Edition) compares the law related to convenants not to compete across the states.  The current edition is available in the Law School Library (Call Number:  KF3463 .M347) and past editions are at the Depository.

Citations to State Law Comparisons

Citations to State Law Comparisons

Statutes Compared: a U.S., Canadian, Multinational Research Guide to Statutes by Subject, 2nd ed. (Reference KF 1.S356 2001)
This resource provides citations to periodically published comparisons of state and Canadian province statutes, such as those appearing in looseleaf publications. It is slightly out of date, but still very useful.

National Survey of State Laws (Reference Desk KF 386.N37)
Provides citations and brief summaries of state laws on a highly selective list of topics.

State Law Index: an Index to the Legislation of the States of the U.S. Enacted During the Biennium (Harvard Depository)
This index is good only for historical research. It was published every two years between 1925-1948 and compared state legislation that was new during that period.  To request this item from the Depository, click on "Availability" and then click on "Request" to retrieve the desired volume using Harvard ID and PIN.

Combined State Statutes

Sources Combining State Statutes

When searching for state statutes, it is important to remember that different states may use different terms and keywords to refer to the same topic.  It is advisable to search multiple synonyms or to use the Table of Contents and/or Index, which will include statutes on a topic regardless of the terms used.

State Annotated Codes Combined on Westlaw (Westlaw password required)
State Annotated Codes Combined on LexisNexis (LexisNexis password required)
These databases search across all state statutes by keyword. Research Tip: Use a variety of terms to account for the non-uniform nature of state statutory language.

LexisNexis State Capital (Harvard ID and PIN required)
Select Statutes. This database will also allow users to search across all state statutes by keyword.

Background on State Legislative Issues

Sources with Background on State Legislative Issues

State Capital Newsletters (Westlaw password Required)
This resource allows users to search through newspapers of selected states that cover legislative matters.

LexisNexis State Capital (Harvard ID and PIN required)
Select Issues. With this database, users can search through either state newspapers for selected states that cover legislative matters or National Conference of State Legislature research materials.

National Governors Association
The National Governors Association provides news on current issues in state government. The Center for Best Practices includes reports and publications on an extensive list of issues explaining which states are implementing creative solutions to common issues. Note: Not all tables provide citations.

Comparing State Constitutions

Print Sources That Compare and/or Compile State Constitutions

State Constitutions of the United States, 2nd ed. Reference KF4530.M33 2006
This volume summarizes provisions of state constitutions by topic. An introductory table indicates which constitutions have provisions relating to specific topics. It also contains state constitutions with brief histories for each.

Constitutions of the United States, National and State, 2d ed. KF 4530 .C6 1974
This resource contains all of the state constitutions in seven volumes. It is frequently updated.

Sources Combining State Constitutions

State Constitutions Combined on LexisNexis (LexisNexis password required)
State Constitutions Combined on Westlaw (Westlaw password required)
These databases allow users to search across all state constitutions by keyword.

LexisNexis State Capital (Harvard ID and PIN required)
Select Statutes then State Constitutions by Keyword. This database allows users to search across all state constitutions by keyword.

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