Secondary authority

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In law, a secondary authority is an authority purporting to explain the meaning or applicability of the actual verbatim texts of primary authorities (such as constitutions, statutes, case law, administrative regulations, executive orders, treaties, or similar legal instruments).

Some secondary authority materials are written and published by governments to explain the laws in simple, non-technical terms, while other secondary authority materials are written and published by private companies, non-profit organizations, or other groups or individuals. Some examples of secondary authority are:

In the United States, various legal scholars disagree over whether legislative histories in the form of texts of congressional committee reports should be considered to be secondary authority or, alternatively, primary authority.[1]

Although secondary authorities are sometimes used in legal research (especially, to allow a researcher to gain a preliminary, overall understanding of an unfamiliar area of law) and are sometimes even cited by courts in deciding cases, secondary authorities are generally afforded less weight than the actual texts of primary authority.


  1. Compare G.L. Richmond, Federal Tax Research: Guide to Materials and Techniques, page 2, fn.4 (4th ed. 1990) and C.L. Kunz, D.A. Schmedemann, C.P. Erlinder & M.P. Downs, The Process of Legal Research, page 3 (1986).