Administrative Law: Introduction


Administrative law is the body of law that governs the activities of administrative agencies of government. Government agency action can include rulemaking, adjudication, or the enforcement of a specific regulatory agenda. Administrative law is considered a branch of public law. As a body of law, administrative law deals with the decision-making of administrative units of government (for example, tribunals, boards or commissions) that are part of a national regulatory scheme in such areas as police law, international trade, manufacturing, the environment, taxation, broadcasting, immigration and transport. Administrative law expanded greatly during the twentieth century, as legislative bodies worldwide created more government agencies to regulate the increasingly complex social, economic and political spheres of human interaction.

Civil law countries often have specialized courts, administrative courts that review these decisions. The plurality of administrative decisions contested in administrative courts is related to taxation.

Federal Administrative Law

Federal administrative law comes from the President, agencies of the Executive Branch, and independent regulatory agencies. The President issues executive orders, proclamations, and reorganization plans. Executive and independent agencies issue rules and regulations that have the force of statutory law. In addition, the agencies make administrative decisions that range in procedural format from informal and private to complex on a full judicial scale. Consequently, administrative law covers a wide variety of materials ranging from in-house memoranda to lengthy opinions written by administrative law judges. This guide describes the most important administrative materials and indicates where they are located in the library, online, and on the web.

California Administrative Law

In California, the term administrative law (also known as regulatory law) refers to the body of law created by the California executive and administrative agencies. Executive departments are established or authorized by the California Constitution. Administrative agencies may be established directly by the Constitution (Public Utilities Commission) or be created by or have authority delegated to them from the legislature. Agencies may sometimes be called Commissions or Boards.

Agencies have quasi-legislative power. Quasi-legislative enactments are generally referred to as regulations or rules. Agencies also have quasi-judicial power and may issue advisory opinions. The terminology for the adjudicatory functions (decisions in disputes) and advisory functions varies from agency to agency; they are typically referred to as decisions or opinions but may also be called orders.

More Information

Treatises provide an excellent starting point to identify the issues and leading primary materials.

  • Alfred C. Aman, Administrative Law (West Hornbook, 2d. ed.) Reserve KF5402 .A8 2001
  • Kenneth Culp Davis & Richard Pierce, Administrative Law Treatise (3 vols.) (5th ed.) KF5402 .D315 2010. Recognized as the leading work on the topic.
  • William F. Fox, Jr., Understanding Administrative Law (5th ed.) KF5402 .F68 2008.
  • Ernest Gellhorn & Ronald M. Levin, Administrative Law and Process in a Nutshell (4th ed.) Reserve KF5402 .G318 1997.
  • Peter L. Strauss, Administrative Justice in the United States (2d ed.) KF5402 .S87 2002. Explores themes in administrative law such as due process and fair hearing.
  • John W. Willis, Administrative Law, Third Series (also known as Pike and Fischer Administrative Law) KF5401.A56 P54. A current awareness, digest, citator, and reporter system containing decisions of the regulatory agencies concerning procedural aspects of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Other administrative law books can be found in the General Collection at the call number range KF5402 - KF5411 on the 3rd Floor.


Congress transfers legislative authority to agencies under the delegation doctrine, which can be a broad or specific grant of power. Rulemaking is one of the main mechanisms through which agencies act. Administrative rules, also referred to interchangeably as regulations, are adopted by agencies and are considered primary legal authority.

The process of rulemaking is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act. Generally, the APA requires a process that includes publication of the proposed rules, a period for comments and participation in the decisionmaking, and adoption and publication of the final rule. See 5 U.S.C. § 553. This is known as "notice and comment" or "informal" rulemaking (i.e., informal in comparison with the more complex process required for laws made by Congress).

For more information on the rulemaking process, see the following titles:

  • Cornelius M. Kerwin, Rulemaking: How Government Agencies Write Law and Make Policy (4th ed.) KF 5411 .K47 2011
  • Jeffrey F. Lubbers, A Guide to Federal Agency Rulemaking (4th ed.)
    KF 5411 .L83 2006