administrative law

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administrative law

administrative law, law governing the powers and processes of administrative agencies. The term is sometimes used also of law (i.e., rules, regulations) developed by agencies in the course of their operation. In the United States, where federal and state governments are intended to maintain a tripartite (legislature, executive, judiciary) balance of powers, administrative law deals primarily with questions of the propriety of the granting of powers (as by Congress) to, or of the assumption of powers (as by executive agencies) by, bodies not originally envisioned as exercising them, and with judicial checks on their actions. Administrative agencies, either independent (e.g., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Federal Aviation Administration) or part of the executive branch (e.g., the U.S. Department of Agriculture), are created, under constitutional provisions (enabling clauses), by statute or by executive order authorized by statute.

The use of administrative agencies in the United States dates from 1789, when legislation first provided for the administration of customs laws, regulation of oceangoing vessels, and payment of pensions to veterans. But it was in the late 19th cent., with the growth of public transportation and public utilities, that agencies began to play a major role in American life. Passage of the Interstate Commerce Act and establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 mark the start of modern administrative law in the United States.

Over time, and especially during the New Deal, with the growth of the nation and its government, federal agencies have assumed legislative and quasijudicial functions—rulemaking, adjudication, investigation, supervision, and prosecution—which neither Congress nor the courts could effectively handle. The traditional notion of the separation of powers has thus been blurred. The principle that Congress cannot delegate its legislative powers has been circumvented by having Congress set primary standards and allowing agencies to fill in the gaps. As a result of their proliferation and the growth of their powers, agencies have come to affect activities ranging from collective bargaining to arms control.

In reaction to the great expansion of agency activity, the Federal Register Act of 1935 required the recording of executive agency actions and procedures in the Federal Register, and the collection of this body of “law” in the Code of Federal Regulations began. The Federal Administrative Procedure Act (1946) provided uniform standards of procedure. The APA guarantees the right of judicial review to any person “suffering legal wrong because of any agency action”; in general, administrative actions will be set aside only for abuse of discretion. Under European legal codes, special administrative courts review the actions of administrative agencies; in common law systems, on the other hand, ordinary courts have complete jurisdiction over controversies involving the validity of agency action.


See C. H. Koch, Administrative Law and Practice (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Administrative Law


a collection of legal norms that regulate the social relations arising during the exercise of executive function—that is, during the process of state administration. The norms of administrative law define the organization and activity of the machinery of state administration, the competence of central and local agencies of administration, the rights and duties of officials, and the relations between the agencies of administration and citizens. They also regulate the procedure for issuing documents of administration, the methods of administrative activity, and the application of administrative methods of compulsion. The application of the norms of administrative law gives rise to administrative and legal relations between the agencies of state administration on the one hand and the corresponding agencies of the state, public organizations, and citizens on the other. In these relations, one party is always an agency of the state (agency of administration) or one of its officials, invested with certain state powers and acting on behalf of the state. These relations may arise independently of the will of the other party. As a rule, disputes arising in the course of these relations are settled through administrative channels—that is, by the next higher agencies of administration or by a state agency set up for this purpose.

Administrative law reflects the economic and social nature of the system and the state and the principles of law of a particular socioeconomic system. The administrative law of exploiter states regulates the relations between the state and the subject with a view to protecting private property, the system of exploitation, and the interests of the ruling class. The major part of bourgeois administrative law consists of norms that regulate the administrative and political activity of the bourgeois state, including the use of different forms of administrative compulsion. These norms invest the police and other administrative authorities with free discretion (so-called discretionary authority) for widely using repressive measures through the direct application of administrative compulsion without permission of the courts.

With the growing rapprochement between the state machinery and the machinery of the monopolies and with the militarization of the economy, the imperialist state actively interferes in the management of its economy in the interests of the financial oligarchy. This is reflected in administrative law. In particular, there has been a considerable increase in the number of administrative and legal norms regulating the economy—the regulation of the state sector of the economy and competence of the corresponding agencies of administration, the state regulation of some aspects of the economic activities of monopolies, the establishment of state control over individual branches of the economy, and so forth. Furthermore, there has been a great increase in the administrative authority of specialized agencies of administration that exercise centralized management of public corporations or state control of private enterprises and their conglomerates. The authority of agencies coordinating the development of the capitalist economy has also increased (planning, accounting, control, and financial agencies); the administrative and legal regulation of social services has also developed greatly.

In socialist countries, administrative law is an independent branch in the system of socialist law and expresses the principles of socialist democracy in the state’s economic, organizational, social, cultural, and educational functions. In the foregoing areas, administrative law ensures the implementation of the political, social, and economic rights of citizens provided for by the constitution. The legal regulation of the administrative and political activity of state agencies, which has the task of protecting socialist gains, public order, and state security in the interests of the working people, pursues the same aims. In regulating the social relations that arise during the process of executive activity of the agencies in the socialist state, administrative law plays an important part in developing economic relations; its rules provide the legal framework for the principles of state administration in socialist society. Socialist administrative law legalizes the forms and methods of the management of the economy, the means of ensuring legality, and the rights of citizens in the area of executive activity.

Administrative law regulates social relationships that arise during the exercise of the executive function of those agencies of the Soviet state fulfilling the tasks of building a communist society. The major part of Soviet administrative law is composed of norms regulating management and administration procedures for the branches of economy: the organization of planning, finance, accounting, and control; the training, recruitment, and placement of personnel; and the day-to-day management of enterprises and economic organizations. The rules of administrative law that reflect the economic reform policy in the USSR (from the mid-1960’s on) are especially important; these rules define the legal status of socialist enterprises and the rights and duties of economic ministries, agencies, and associations. Soviet administrative law has the important tasks of ensuring the further development of cultural, public educational, and public health institutions, organizing science and research, implementing and protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, and improving the legal guarantees of individuals in dealing with state administration. Administrative law is also directed toward ensuring the state’s functioning in the defense of the country, in the maintenance of public order and state security, and in developing the foreign relations of the Soviet state.

Soviet administrative law is composed of a general part and a special part. The general part has rules regulating the legal status and competence of agencies of administration, the legal status of citizens and public organizations in the sphere of executive activity, and the forms and methods of this activity (acts of administration, methods of persuasion, reward, and compulsion, and measures and forms for ensuring the legality of the administrative activity). The general part also covers the rules of administrative procedure that regulate the procedure of hearing administrative disputes and the application of corresponding sanctions. The special part contains the norms that regulate the organization, methods, and forms of the management of individual branches of the economy and social, cultural, administrative, and political activity.

The sources of Soviet administrative law are the constitutions of the USSR and the Union and autonomous republics, laws and decrees of the supreme soviets of the USSR and the Union and autonomous republics, decrees and ordinances of the presidiums of the supreme soviets of the USSR and the Union and autonomous republics, decrees and regulations of the councils of ministers of the USSR and the Union and autonomous republics, orders and instructions of the ministers and chairmen of state committees and agencies, and decisions and regulations of local soviets and their executive committees.


Administrativnoe pravo. Edited by A. E. Lunev. Moscow, 1967. (Textbook.)
Kozlov, Iu. M. Predmet administrativnogo prava. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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