nondelegation doctrine

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The non-delegation doctrine is the principle that Congress cannot delegate its legislative powers or lawmaking ability to other entities. This prohibition typically involves Congress delegating its powers to administrative agencies or to private organizations. Thus, the non-delegation doctrine is most commonly used in connection with administrative law and constitutional law.

In J.W. Hampton v. United States, 276 U.S. 394 (1928), the Supreme Court clarified that when Congress does give an agency the ability to regulate, Congress must give the agencies an "intelligible principle” on which to base their regulations. This standard is viewed as quite lenient, and has rarely, if ever, been used to strike down legislation.

In A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), the Supreme Court held that "Congress is not permitted to abdicate or to transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it is thus vested."

For more on the non-delegation doctrine, see this University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, this Notre Dame Law Review article, and this Stanford Law Review article.

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]