What Is Administrative Law?

••• Leonid Andronov/iStock/GettyImages

Related Articles

Administrative law is the body of laws that govern the creation and operation of federal and state government agencies. Government agencies are created to carry out and execute the functions of government according to the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) of 1946. These agencies create, implement and enforce regulations.

This branch of law also oversees the agencies’ relationship with the general public. Administrative law provides methods of agency accountability and responsibility. Administrative law also provides remedies available to private individuals and organizations seeking to enforce those rights.

Examples of federal agencies include the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Communications Commission and NASA. Whenever one of these agencies or a state agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Child and Family Services, makes a decision or holds a hearing, that is administrative law.

What is the Importance of Administrative Law?

Administrative law is increasingly important because so much of the average citizen’s contact with government is with an agency and its regulations, such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of the Treasury or the Environmental Protection Agency. Administrative law specifies the rights and responsibilities of private citizens in their dealings with public agencies. It also specifies the procedures available to private citizens to ensure that agencies are accountable and responsible to them.

What Are the Sources of Administrative Law

There are three sources of administrative law: rulemaking, adjudication and investigation.

Regulations are Created via Rulemaking. It's the responsibility of administrative agencies to make rules and render decisions regarding their operations. To do this, administrative agencies use the rulemaking process outlined in the APA. This process is called "Notice and Comment." In the notice period, agencies must notify the public of proposed new or changing rules. They are also required to accept as well as reply to any substantive public comments. The public must have at least 45 days to review the rule and submit comments to the rule. At the federal level, new rules, final rules and changes to existing rules must be published in the Federal Register, which is available by subscription or online.

Adjudication: Special Courts Decide Administrative Law Cases. If an individual or organization wants to appeal an agency decision, he may do so after showing he has exhausted all of the options for appeal provided by the agency. Then, the appeal goes to an Administrative Law Judge. The ALJs are part of their respective agencies, but are independent from the agency officials and act as impartial judges of the facts. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ALJs must defer to the agency interpretation of the rules, unless the rule is unreasonable, plainly erroneous or inconsistent.

Investigation: Agencies Can Make Inquiries Agencies have the legal right to perform administrative inquiries. Usually, these inquiries do not concern major incidents. Inquiries might be taken in relation to a complaint by a citizen, safety violations or in regard to personnel issues. Investigations are conducted by agency supervisors or managers to gather facts and evidence to determine the next course of action. An administrative inquiry is not of the purpose of law enforcement or criminal prosecution.


  • Administrative law is the body of laws and the judicial process that governs the operation, policies and procedures of government agencies.