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Bluebook Citation for Legal Materials

The Bluebook style guide is used in the American legal profession for citation of all relevant sources. Additionally, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends its use for all citation of legal material. What follows is a summary of the basics. It should be noted that the Bluebook system goes into significant complexity on most of these points, but the following is the level of detail it recommends for the basic needs of, e.g., a student.

It should also be noted that, depending on the document, underlines may be substituted for italics and vice versa – as long as one is consistent.

Short Form Citations

Once you have cited a given authority in full once, you may use a short-form citation subsequently. The specific content of a short form citation is flexible, but varies by the type of authority being cited. Acceptable short forms for a given citation will be covered in each entry.

Short forms may also use id. to indicate that this citation is from the same authority as the previous.  

Court Cases

Citation of a court case requires the following components:

  • The name of the case
  • The source where you found the case
  • The court where the case was decided
  • The year the decision took place

The citation may be followed by other parenthetical information, such as a brief explanation of the case’s relevance or a quotation from that case. This may be followed by subsequent history of the case, e.g., later affirmations of the decision, if you so choose.

In citing the name of the case, one generally summarizes. If there are multiple plaintiffs or multiple defendants, one only lists the first party in each category. Moreover, the names of individuals within the case name are shortened to surname only – no first or middle names, no initials, no “aka” or “et al.”

In general, one should abbreviate to the degree possible without losing necessary information. The Bluebook recommends, for example, shortening any procedural phrases to abbreviations such as “In re” or “Ex parte”, as well as using any commonly-understood abbreviations to shorten the names of the parties, e.g. “Univ.” rather than “University”. Names of the source and the court are also generally abbreviated; in the example citation below, Federal Rules Decisionsis shortened to “F.R.D.”, and the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania is abbreviated to “W.D. Pa.” Sources and courts tend to have official abbreviations for this purpose, which are generally conspicuously provided for anyone needing to cite them.

The page number in a case citation is the page on which that case begins in the source. If you wish to reference a specific page as well as the general case, separate that page reference with a comma. For instance, if your reference is a case that begins on page 100 of your source, but you want to point specifically to a statement six pages in, the page number in your citation would be “100, 106”.

Case Name, Source page number (Court year) (additional information as needed).
United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Pa. 1971) (“the plaintiff has failed to include with his complaint the required form of instructions for the United StatesMarshal for directions as to service of process”).

In the short-form citation of a case, you are free to shorten the case name to only the first party, or even an abbreviated form of that party’s title. If, however, the first party is a governmental entity, geographical unit, or other such creation, this may not be a helpful citation. (Since there are so many cases where the first party is, for example, the U.S. government, citing a case name as “United States” doesn’t narrow it down enough to be useful). In these cases, cite instead by the name of the second party.

If you are citing a specific point in the case, you may use only that page number and eliminate the page that the case begins on. If you are still citing the case as a whole, retain the page number on which the case begins.

Shortened Case Name, Source at page number.

Ex rel. Mayo, 54 F.R.D. at 282. 

Constitutions

When citing the constitution of a governmental entity, use the abbreviated title of the constitution, then specify to which subdivision of said document you are referring. Some helpful abbreviations for those subdivisions are as follows:

Amendment

amend.

Article

art.

Clause

cl.

Paragraph

para.

Part

pt.

Preamble

pmbl.

Section

§

Set the title of the constitution in small caps if possible. The subdivisions should then be listed, separated by commas, in order of decreasing size.

Constitition Title subdivision, subdivision.

Tenn. Const. art. IX, §3.

If you are citing a section of that constitution which has since been amended or repealed, note the date of that fact in parentheses at the end of the citation, e.g.

U.S. Const. amend. XVIII (repealed 1933).

If the entire constitution is no longer in effect, add the date at which the constitution was originally adopted to the citation as follows:

Md. Const. of 1864, art. XXIV.

If the section of a defunct constitution you are citing was adopted in a different year than the constitution as a whole, then include that year as well, e.g.

Ala. Const. of 1819, amend. III (1850).

There is no short form for constitutional citations.

Statutes, Laws, and Codes

To cite a federal statute, you need to include:

  • The title of the act
  • The source in which it is found
  • The year in which it was enacted (session laws) OR the year in which the source was published (codes).
  • The chapters or section(s) being referred to.

State statutes follow a similar structure, but whenever possible, one should simply cite the appropriate section of the code.

Act Title, Source § number (year).

The Guano Islands Act, 48 U.S.C. ch. 8 §§1411-12 (2012).

Ga. Code Ann. § 39-2-17 (2016).

As with constitutional citations above, if the statute has been repealed or amended, indicate this fact and the year it occurred in parentheses at the end of the citation. You may also include additional information in the same fashion.

Utah Crim. Code § 76-7-104 (1973) (repealed 2019).

Short form citations for statutes need to include the section number as well as the minimum information necessary to identify which of your previously-cited authorities the citation refers to. An appropriate short form for the Guano Islands Act above, for instance, could be:

48 U.S.C. §§1411-12

Bills and Resolutions

To cite a bill or resolution, include:

  • Title of bill if needed
  • Document number
  • Term and session of the legislative body
  • Relevant sections
  • Year published

For bills passed in state legislative bodies rather than federal, you should also include the state.

Act Title, Document Number, Term # Legislative Body, Session § number (State year).

Student Protection Act, H.R. 2625, 113th Cong. § 3 (2013).

Floor Amendment 1 to S.B. 459. 42nd Leg., 1st Sess. § 2 (N.M. 1995).

In short-form citations, it is sufficient to cite by document number, though to avoid confusion, one should specify the state unless discussing a federal law.

Ga. H.B. 677

Hearings

When citing a hearing, include:

  • The full title as published
  • The relevant bills, if any
  • The committee
  • The term & session of the legislative body
  • The year of publication
  • The name and titles of the individual providing a statement
  • Relevant page numbers

Title: Hearing on Bill Before the Committee, Term & Session page numbers (year) (statement of Firstname Lastname, Titles).

Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations for 2003: Hearing before the H. Subcomm. on Education Appropriations, 107th Cong. (2002) (statement of Elmo Monster, Sesame Street Muppet).

Protecting America’s Harvest: Hearing on H.R. 2414 Before the H. Subcomm. on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, 111th Cong. (2010) (statement of Stephen Colbert, Host, The Colbert Report, Comedy Central Studios)

Note: No method of writing short-form citations for hearings is listed in the Bluebook.