What Is Administrative Law?

Administrative law deals with the rules and procedures of administrative agencies. It focuses on the interpretation of statutes that create agencies and specify their powers.


It also studies how courts review decisions made by these bodies. Typically, a reviewing court only looks at how the decision was arrived at rather than its merits.


Lawmaking is one of the central pillars of administrative law. Although the reach of modern administrative agencies is vast, Congress and state legislatures pass laws to establish their jurisdiction. Congress and states may delegate additional authority to agencies in the form of statutes, granting them powers over various issues such as taxation and workplace safety.

These agencies must follow specific rules of procedure when enacting their own regulations. For example, they must first publish their proposed rule in the Federal Register to allow members of the public to comment on it. Often, the agency will hold a hearing to hear testimony from those who oppose the new rule before deciding whether to adopt it or not. In some cases, the agency must also pass a record of its decision to its governing body before it can take effect.

While some textualist scholars have argued that administrative agencies are unconstitutional, most current jurisprudence deems them constitutional and necessary in today’s society. However, judicial review and other forms of judicial oversight are still important in ensuring that these government actors act within their limits and that the courts will correct any missteps.


Government agencies, both at the Federal and State level, create regulations that have the force of law. These regulations often cover a broad range of issues from telecommunications to the financial market and environmental concerns. Although these agencies have enormous powers, they must still operate within Constitutional and statutory parameters. These limits are primarily set forth in statutes like the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and state analogs. These laws regulate how agencies must conduct their formal rulemaking; conduct hearings and adjudications that enforce or challenge the validity of a regulation; and issue guidance that clarifies an agency’s stance on a specific regulatory matter but does not have binding legal effect.

In order for a regulation to have the force of law, it must lie within the statutory grant of authority that Congress has provided to an agency. It must also conform to the statutory purpose and be reasonable. Courts rarely strike down a regulation for these reasons, but they will scrutinize the process that an agency follows when it makes a rule.

Regulatory law requires lawyers to study a broad range of topics. Students interested in this area must develop a familiarity with general government principles, as well as the specific laws and statutes that govern particular agencies and subject-matter areas. This broad base allows students to effectively work with agencies and their clients.


Appeals are a specialized type of legal procedure in which someone who loses in a trial court asks a higher-ranking court to reverse the original decision. All legal systems have some kind of appeals process.

Administrative law covers the activities of administrative agencies, the rules they make and how those agencies interact with other government bodies and citizens. It also deals with the judicial review of those agencies. It has become increasingly important in recent years as legislative bodies worldwide create more and more government agencies to regulate the complex social, economic and political spheres of human interaction.

In the United States, the Administrative Procedure Act governs how courts conduct judicial review of agency decisions. There are also numerous laws that govern other aspects of the administrative process, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). These laws can be a powerful tool for preserving public access to information.

Many people need the help of lawyers with expertise in administrative law to fight a battle against a government agency’s unfair, unwarranted or incorrect decisions. Some examples include the issuance of work permits, denial of disability benefits or the enforcement of environmental regulations. In some cases, a person must first file an appeal with the agency that made the decision before taking it to a court. This is known as bezwaar, or in the case of the Dutch government, administratief beroep.


Since Congress cannot enforce or administer every law it enacts, it must delegate certain responsibilities to administrative agencies. These agencies have the power to draft and enact policies to which citizens and companies must adhere. In addition, they can bring civil or criminal actions against those who fail to comply with the agency’s rules or statutes. For example, a doctor or lawyer who violates the rules of a state regulatory agency may be censured, fined, or have his or her license to practice revoked.

The agencies are not independent but must operate within Constitutional and statutory parameters. Those limitations have been established in a body of administrative law called the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and its state analogs. The APA defines the roles of the agencies and specifies their powers, authority, procedures, and standards that they must follow in all functions. These include formal and informal rulemaking, adjudication, and guidance.

As a field of study, administrative law is constantly evolving to match the ever-increasing size and complexity of government institutions. It incorporates methods and findings from social science to understand how law can improve the operations of these institutions, increase public legitimacy, and promote democracy. This guide provides an overview of the major concepts and sources in this area of law. You can access additional resources by selecting the labeled tabs on this page or using the drop-down menu to select a specific topic.