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Researching Texas Law: Constitution & Statutes

This guide lists assists users in researching Texas statutes and case law.

Introduction

The Texas Statutes is the official name for the laws of the state of Texas. These laws are passed by the Texas Legislature in its biennial sessions, then split up by topic and placed into official published code books. Texas is known for a limited state-level government - the legislature passes relatively few bills and prefers to enact laws that contain general guidelines and delegate rule drafting and enforcement power to agencies, special districts and local governments. Nevertheless, due to the sheer size of Texas, the statutes are very lengthy. The annotated version consists of well over a hundred volumes, and even unannotated versions of single topical codes can easily run over a thousand pages.

History of the Texas Statutes

Texas' statutes have a long, complicated publication history. This might not seem like something the modern researcher should worry about, but when you come across a situation where you need to know a law's history, it's crucial to understand where you can find that information. This timeline will take users through a brief history of the various versions of the statutes. It also includes links to each item online, if available.


Pre-1879: Private Publishers

During the early days of Texas, no official version of the statutes was available, so private companies stepped up with digests and unofficial compilations.

Paschal's Digest, 1866-1878
Paschal's was the first really useful Texas digest. It was heavily used by lawyers and judges and is cited frequently in early cases, usually as "P.D". The Digest was a major influence on the development of the first official published statutes in 1879.

Gammell's Laws of Texas, 1822-1897
In addition to statutes, Gammell's includes legal analyses, governing documents, journals, and colonization and statehood materials.

Sayles' Early Laws of Texas, 1731-1879
A great historical resource. It includes Spanish, Mexican and early civil law, as well as much of the same material that's found in Gammell's. It's especially useful for land title and boundary research.

Sayles' Revised Civil Statutes, 1888-1922
Even though Texas began publishing its statutes in 1879, the official compilations were not updated often enough to keep up with all the new laws that were passed. Published in 1888, 1889, 1897, 1898 & 1914, with supplements through 1922, these Sayles volumes fill in the gaps between 1879-1911 and 1911-1925.


1854-1879: First Publication

In 1854, the Texas Legislature officially approved a project to codify the state's laws in print. The project drew heavily from Paschal's Digest.

In 1856, the Penal Code & the Code of Criminal Procedure were officially codified. These are often cited as the Old Code, or "O.C.".

In 1879, the Civil Statutes were officially codified. There were no topical codes, just an alphabetical listing of statutes with little internal organization. There were no case notes or annotations other than some basic history for some, but not all, laws.


1895, 1911 & 1925: Recompilations

New versions of the statutes were published in 1895 and 1911, recompiling the existing statutes and incorporating the laws passed since the previous recompilation. The organization and annotations remained the same.

The 1925 recompilation was the final version published by the state. That same year, Vernon's Revised Texas Statutes began publication, and the Legislature soon gave them approval to publish their statutes as the official version. From then on, the statutes were published by private publishers with the permission of the state.


1925-1960s

Vernon's Revised Texas Statutes continued its publication throughout this period. Full recompilations were printed in 1936 and 1948, supplemented every two years with non-cumulative volumes. However, the constant expansion of the statutes and the 1925 revision's numbering scheme made it hard to add sections, resulting in an increasingly cumbersome and obtuse publication. While the statutes were arranged alphabetically by subject - a definite improvement over the official codes' largely random arrangement - they were still hard to use due to the organizational structure and the need to check multiple volumes for updating. By the end of the 1960s, there was general agreement in the legal community that a change was needed.


1963: Code Revision

In 1963, the Legislature created the Office of the Code Revisor, a legislative agency charged with reviewing all of the existing statutes, dividing them into topical codes, and publishing these revisions as bills. The bills were then approved by the Legislature and published as Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated. The Code Revisor was also given a mandate to clean up the statutes' numbering and organizational system, including leaving adequate room for expansion, as well as revise the statutory language to remove and update outdated terminology. The revision was to be nonsubstantive, meaning that any changes could not affect the meaning or application of the statute. This was a massive project - over 50 years later, it is still going on, although it is largely complete and is now focusing on minor revisions.


1960s-present

The revised codes are published as Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated (also known as the "black statutes" because of the color of their binding). The not-yet-codified statutes are still published as Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes, but only a few volumes are left, which are being phased out as the recodification project is completed.

Online versions of the codes up through 1984 can be viewed online here.

Where can I find them?

In Print

Vernon's is the official compilation and consists of:

  • Vernon's Revised Civil Statutes
  • Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated
  • Vernon's Texas Rules
  • Vernon's Texas Constitution

Since the statutes are public information and may be reproduced by anyone, there are lots of other versions, including:

  • Single-volume codes: these contain the text of an entire topical code (such as the Family Code) in a single, easy to use volume.
  • Topical compilations: these compile all of the statutes on a given topic (such as insurance) from across the codes and publish them all in a single volume. Sometimes these include administrative rules as well.

While the text of the statutes is free, the annotations are copyrighted, so any non-official versions of the codes must either be unannotated or write their own annotations.

Online Sources

The Texas Legislature publishes the statutes online at the Texas Constitution and Statutes website. Be sure to check the website's currency statement to see if it includes the most recent laws. This is the most reliable free online source for the Texas laws.

Any legal website that publishes statutes will likely have the Texas statutes available. Before using any information from a free online source, be sure you know when it was last updated and how accurate it is.

Various state agency websites, advocacy groups, and other interested parties may publish selected statutes on their sites - again, be aware of the information's currency and accuracy before relying on it.

Westlaw and Lexis both offer the basic text of the Texas Statutes. Since West is owned by the company that publishes the Texas laws, Westlaw offers the same annotations and finding aids that users would find in the print volumes, including tables of contents, indexes, disposition tables, histories, and case notes. Lexis, in contrast, provides only sparse annotations and no index.

Using the Statutes

Finding Aids

  • Tables of contents for each code are available in the official print volumes, on Westlaw and Lexis, and on some free sites. Most other printed code compilations also have tables of contents. The official online statutes have tables of contents that can be viewed by clicking on the plus sign to the left of each code's name.
  • Indexes
    • The official statutes offer two types of indexes: the general index, which is located at the very end of the printed set and covers every statute and the Constitution, and specific code indexes, which are located in the final volume of each code and cover only that statutes in that code. The general index includes a Popular Name Table that lets users look up statutes by their more well-known names or acronyms. The general index and each code's index are available in print and on Westlaw. Lexis does not offer an index, nor do most free sites or the official online statutes.
  • Disposition/derivation tables: Full disposition and derivation tables are included in the first printed volume of each topical code. Westlaw offers disposition tables only, while Lexis has disposition and derivation tables for most codes. Free sites and the official online statutes do not have these tables.
  • Annotations: All volumes of the printed Vernon's statutes include extensive annotations giving information on the history and interpretation of the law. These annotations are available on Westlaw, but not on Lexis, free sites, or the official online statutes. Some non-official print versions offer their own annotations, which may be more or less extensive than those in Vernon's.

Code Construction and Construction of Laws Acts (Tex. Government Code chapters 311 & 312)

These Acts are intended to assist Texas and federal courts in interpreting statutory language by setting out rules of construction and interpretation common to all Texas statutes, as well as handle odd occurrences like conflicting amendments or inconsistent effective dates. These acts are nonsubstantive and are always subordinate to the plain meaning of the statutory text. It's important for practitioners to be aware of their existence, however, because definitions and phrases found in these acts are sometimes referenced in the text of other statutes.

Research Resources

Books

  • Texas Jurisprudence
  • Texas Practice
  • Texas Practice Guide
  • Texas Transaction Guide (aka Dorsaneo's)
  • West's Texas Forms

Articles

John R. Anthony, "The Story of the Texas Probate Code", 2 S. Tex. L.J. 1 (1955-1956)

Charles P. Bubany, "The Texas Penal Code of 1974", 28 Sw. L.J. 292 (1974)

Fred Cohen, "Reflections on the Revision of the Texas Penal Code", 45 Tex. L. Rev. 413 (1966-1967)

William V. Dorsaneo III, "The History of Texas Civil Procedure", 65 Baylor L. Rev. 713 (2013)

William D. Pargaman, "The Story of the Texas Estates Code", 6 Est. Plan. & Cmty. Prop. L.J. 323 (2013-2014)

Joseph H. Pool, "Bulk Revision of Texas Statutes", 39 Tex. L. Rev. 469 (1960-1961)

Charles S. Potts, "Early Criminal Law in Texas: From Civil Law to Common Law to Code", 21 Tex. L. Rev. 394 (1942-1943)