Administrative Law

Definition

Branch of law governing the creation and operation of administrative agencies.  Of special importance are the powers granted to administrative agencies, the substantive rules that such agencies make, and the legal relationships between such agencies, other government bodies, and the public at large. 

Overview

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 prerogative of the Congress.  Agencies are created through their own organic statutes, which establish new laws, and doing so, creates 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.

Administrative Law--Structure of Agencies

While some textualist scholars argue that administrative agencies are unconstitutional, particularly because of unconstitutional delegation of law-making power, the current jurisprudence in administrative law deems agencies constitutional, and necessary in the current society in the functional and pragmatic sense.  Indeed, because the 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 the Congress has enacted.  Some of the most notable agencies are the executive agencies such as the Department of Justice and Department of Defense, etc. as well as 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 to enact various rules defining and interpreting the relevant statutes, and to enforce those rules, and adjudicate matters according to those regulations. 

Statutory Regulation of Agencies

However, despite their 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 the overall 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 rule making 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 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 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 action.  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 less 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. 

 

Administraive 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: Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. NDRC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984); Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997); and Skidmore v. Swift, 323 U.S. 134 (1944). 

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.  Similar 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 Skidmore 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 amount of deference according to the agency’s expertise in the particular matter. 

 

Last Edited By Jonathan Kim, June 2017.


 

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