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A daily publication that makes available to the public the rules, regulations, and other legal notices issued by federal administrative agencies.
Executive Orders and agency regulations were promulgated at a furious pace in the early days of the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but there was no requirement that these regulations be centrally filed or regularly published. It became increasingly difficult to know which rules were in effect at any one time. Two important cases were pursued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before it was discovered that the administrative regulations that the defendants were accused of violating were no longer in effect. Newspapers all over the country castigated the government for prosecuting people under non-existent laws.
The furor led to enactment in 1935 of the Federal Register Act, now part of 44 U.S.C.A. § 1501 et seq., a law that established the Federal Register as a daily gazette for the government. Orders from federal agencies or the executive branch do not become effective until they have been published in the Federal Register. In 1937, the act was amended to create the code of federal regulations, a set of paperback books that arrange effective regulations from the Federal Register by subject.
The Federal Register includes (1) presidential proclamations and executive orders; (2) other documents that the president from time to time determines to have general applicability and legal effect; (3) documents that are required by an act of Congress to be published; and(4) other documents selected for publication by the director of the Federal Register. Documents are placed on file for public inspection at the Office of the Federal Register in Washington, D.C., on the day before they are published, unless an earlier filing is requested by the agency issuing them.
The Federal Register has been published continuously since March 14, 1936, and it provides the only complete history of the regulations of the federal government with the text of all changes. Regulations are published in the order in which they are filed, but specific documents can be located by consulting a table of contents in each daily issue or in the monthly index. Separate guides are prepared, to note which regulations have been changed in an issue ("List of C.F.R. Parts Affected in This Issue") and the regulations changed at any time since the beginning of the month ("Cumulative List of C.F.R. Parts Affected During April," for example). A separate pamphlet is published along with the monthly index that lists references to all the changes in regulations since the last time the affected title of the Code of Federal Regulations was revised. All references are made to the Code of Federal Regulations because it is the topically organized version of the regulations that are published daily in the Federal Register.
The text of any document in the Federal Register can be shown as good and sufficient evidence that the document was properly filed and that it is, therefore, good law. If a regulation has not been published in the Federal Register, a governmental agency would have to show that an individual actually knew about it before it could prosecute the person for violating it. This encourages the agencies to be sure that their regulations are published in the one place where everyone can expect to find them.
As of July 31, 2003, the database for Federal Register for each year subsequent to 1995, (and subsequent to Volumes 60), was available and searchable online at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html. Documents may be retrieved in ASCII format (full text, graphics omitted), Adobe Portable Document Format, "PDF" (full text with graphics), and "SUMMARY" format (abbreviated text). The 1994 Federal Register (Volume 59) database was also available but did not have the same search capabilities, as it contains no fields or section identifiers. It is also possible to browse the current issue of the Federal Register at the same site. Also accessible is an online History of Line Item Veto Notices (as published in the Federal Register) prior to U.S. Supreme Court Opinion No. 97-1374 (argued April 27, 1998—decided June 25, 1998.