administrative law

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Administrative law refers to the branch of law governing the creation and operation of administrative agencies. The powers granted to administrative agencies are particularly important, along with the substantive rules that such agencies make, and the legal relationships between agencies, other government bodies, and the public at large.


Administrative law encompasses laws and legal principles governing the administration and regulation of government agencies (both federal and state). Agencies are delegated power by Congress (or in the case of a state agency, the state legislature), to act as agencies responsible for carrying out certain prerogatives from Congress. Agencies are created through their own organic statutes, which establish new laws, and in doing so, create the respective agencies to interpret, administer, and enforce those new laws. Generally, administrative agencies are created to protect a public interest rather than to vindicate private rights.

Structure of Agencies:

Some textualist scholars argue that administrative agencies are unconstitutional, particularly because of the arguably unconstitutional delegation of law-making power. Nonetheless, the current jurisprudence in administrative law deems agencies constitutional, and necessary in the current society in a functional and pragmatic sense. Indeed, because Congress cannot enforce and administer every law it enacts, it must rely on the agencies to administer, interpret, enforce, and otherwise regulate various federal laws that Congress has enacted. Some of the most notable agencies are the executive agencies such as the Department of Justice and Department of Defense. Other examples include some independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which are independent from the direct control of the President. These agencies have enormous power to interpret the broad congressional laws, enact various rules defining and interpreting relevant statutes, enforce those rules, and adjudicate matters according to those regulations.

Statutory Regulation of Agencies:

However, despite the agencies’ enormous powers, the governmental agencies must still act within Constitutional and statutory parameters. These and other limits have been codified, for the most part, into a statute known as the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and state analogs, which provides for the roles and powers of all the agencies, and the procedures by which they must abide by in all their functions. APA categorizes administrative functions into formal and informal rulemaking and adjudication, which have binding effects, as well as guidance, which has no binding effect. The APA further prescribes certain procedural rules by which the agencies need to follow before acting in one of the functions listed.

The APA is a remedial statute designed to ensure uniformity and openness in the procedures used by federal agencies. The Act is comprised of a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing regulations, adjudications, and rulemaking in general terms. The APA is the major source for federal administrative agency law, while state agencies' administration and regulation are governed by comparable state acts.

For example, under the federal APA and judicial interpretations of the APA, agencies purporting to engage in the rulemaking function must give notice of proposed rulemaking before adopting the final rule. The final rule must follow a logical outgrowth of the proposed rule and must display the agencies’ consideration of all comments received and reviewed.

In its adjudicatory functions, the agencies often have their own judicial body, known as the Administrative Law Judge, who are part of their respective agency, but must be independent from the agency officials involved in certain actions. The administrative law judges are to adjudicate claims or disputes involving the agency, as an impartial trier of fact and law, and are prohibited by APA from engaging in any ex parte contact with the agency, unless upon notice and opportunities to all parties involved in the proceeding.

Finally, the agencies have much fewer procedural limitations in its guidance actions, where the agencies can issue interpretive rulings or guidance letters explaining its stance on certain rules, etc., but without the force of law.

Judicial Review of Agency Actions:

One important aspect of the administrative law is the judicial deference given by the courts to the agencies. The U.S. Supreme Court has established three different levels or standards of judicial deference in three landmark cases: 

First, under Chevron deference, the courts apply an extremely deferential standard of review, in which the courts defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable.

Second, under the Auer deference, courts defer to the agency interpretations of its own ambiguous regulations. Akin to the Chevron deference, the courts have that the agency’s interpretation of its own regulations are binding unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.

Third, if the Chevron or Auer deference do not apply, the Skidmore deference applies, in which the courts do not give a binding deference to the agency’s interpretation but give varying amounts of deference according to the agency’s expertise in the particular matter. 

Federal Material

Federal Statutes
  • 5 U.S.C. - Government Organization and Employees
  • 5 U.S.C., Ch. 5 - Federal Administrative Procedure Act
Federal Agency Regulations
Federal Judicial Decisions
  • Recent Administrative Law Decisions
  • Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NDRC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984)
  • Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997)
  • Skidmore v. Swift, 323 U.S. 134 (1944).
  • Shell Oil Co. v. E.P.A., 950 F.2d 741 (D.C. Cir. 1991)

State Material

State Statutes
  • State Statutes Dealing with State Government
State Judicial Decisions
  • Administrative Law Cases
  • Commentary from liibulletin-ny
  • Appellate Decisions from Other States
Key Internet Sources
  • FOIA Guidelines
  • ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice
  • University of Toronto Law School Faculty Blog: Administrative Law

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team