Administrative Law: Definition, How It Works, and Examples

What is Administrative Law?

Administrative law is the body of law that governs the administration and regulation of government agencies (both federal and state).

Key Takeaways

  • Administrative law involves the administration and regulation of federal and state government agencies.
  • Government agencies have purview over a wide variety of economic functions, such as telecommunications, the financial market, and social issues, such as instances of racial discrimination.
  • Administrative law is an arm of public law and is also known as “regulatory law.”

Understanding Administrative Law

In the U.S., Congress or state legislatures create administrative law. It encompasses the procedures under which government agencies operate, as well as the external constraints upon them. Administrative law is considered a branch of public law and is often referred to as regulatory law.

Over the years government agencies have steadily grown in number and importance in the United States. They have purview over a wide variety of economic functions, such as telecommunications, the financial market, and social issues, such as instances of racial discrimination. Examples of these agencies include the Department of Labor (DOL), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Administrative law governs such federal agencies as the U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission, and state agencies such as workers’ compensation boards.

Workers’ compensation boards are examples of state-level government bodies that can enact policies and procedures under the direction of the administrative laws that structure them. Such boards have the power to determine whether injured workers are entitled to receive compensation related to injuries sustained in connection with their occupations. The authority outlined by administrative law details the constraints within which the boards must operate, how each case must be handled, and ways disputes are to be resolved.

The increasing number of regulatory agencies and new layers of bureaucracy means administrative law must be established or amended to guide these operations. Each agency, department, or division of government must have administrative regulations that establish the scope and limits of its authority. The powers granted to government institutions can include the right to draft, enact, and enforce policies to which industries, companies, and private citizens must adhere.

Administrative Law Example

An example of how administrative law works involves the issue of internet neutrality. Internet providers sought deregulation changes regarding how they structure data rates and billing to customers and manage such services. The rule changes they wanted would allow such practices as charging customers a fee for internet access and more for faster speeds, as well as favoring transmission of the content of companies they own to the disadvantage of other content.

This effort raised debate and concerns about the preservation of net neutrality. The FCC holds regulatory authority over such matters because of the administrative laws that outline the commission’s powers. The procedures and actions the FCC can take regarding the proposed changes are also structured by those underlying administrative laws.


Legislative days within which Congress must act to reverse a federal regulation made under administrative law.

The FCC allowed public comment on the proposal before the commission voted on Dec. 14, 2017, to revoke net neutrality policies. That decision could have been undone by Congress, which has powers under the Congressional Review Act that allow it to reverse federal regulations. Such an action requires the passage of a joint resolution within 60 legislative days. The Senate voted to do just that on May 15, 2018, but the House of Representatives did not follow suit, and the new rules went into effect on June 10, 2018.

In the wake of this decidedly controversial decision, more than 29 states have moved to enforce net neutrality, but their legal jurisdiction on the matter remains in question.

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