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If you’re charged with a crime, you hire a criminal defense lawyer. If you’re going through a divorce, you’ll seek out the best family law attorney you can find. And if you’re hurt in a car accident, you want an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.
But what if the Social Security Administration denies your benefits claim? Or someone from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to talk to you about a workplace accident? Or the Environmental Protection Agency claims upgrades to your property violate clean air or water laws?
There are all kinds of niche areas of law, and administrative law, the statutes and procedures that apply to public regulatory agencies, is one such area that you might find yourself in. Here’s what you need to know.
Administrative law consists of statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions and orders that cover the creation of administrative agencies, and which govern their powers and duties. Administrative procedure rules also determine the methods and processes for administrative filings and hearings before administrative agencies, which can vary from traditional courtroom procedure.
The challenge of administrative law is to balance the regulatory power of government agencies with the rights and liberties of those regulated. Administrative law tries to impose a formal legal process on the ways that agencies exercise their power to enforce statutes within their purview.
For instance, in the interest of economic security, the federal government regulates the market for stocks and bonds. In order to do so, it created the Securities and Exchange Commission, which monitors and controls how securities are registered, offered, and sold. The SEC can therefore write the rules, in the form of legislation, and enforce them, in the form of hearings, criminal charges, and sanctions.
While the SEC was created by Congress, SEC commissioners are appointed by the president, and the agency conducts adjudicatory hearings to determine violations or to prescribe punishment, it operates independently from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. This is often true for other local, state, and federal agencies as well.
The federal Administrative Procedure Act (also known as the “Constitution of Administrative Law”) governs proceedings before federal administrative agencies. Most states have similar statutes to regulate state agencies.
Agencies are also constrained by state and local legislatures, which write the statutes agencies are tasked with enforcing, and control the purse strings for the agencies’ funding. For instance, the Federal Communications Commission and National Labor Relations Board are federal agencies that regulate interstate and foreign communications and federal labor law, respectively, and both rely on annual budget funding through federal allocations in order to do so.
Administrative agencies must also abide by the U.S. Constitution. For instance, the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the federal government and the state governments from depriving a person of their life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Therefore, agencies must provide people with fair warning and a reasonable opportunity, appropriate under the circumstances, to challenge any action that could affect their rights.
For instance, state agencies may not deny welfare benefits to applicants who meet the mandatory entitlement conditions without providing them an oral hearing. And, if a state grants all resident children the right to attend public schools, state-funded school districts cannot suspend a student for alleged misconduct without notice and at least a prior hearing.
Finally, there are administrative law judges that specialize in hearing cases relating to specific agencies or their regulations.
There are over 100 federal administrative agencies, and countless more that represent states, counties, cities, and other municipalities, and these agencies regulate everything from federal transportation safety to local service, zoning, and construction ordinances. Additionally, while there are federal and state regulations that cover administrative agencies generally, each agency may have its own processes and procedures for handling claims, issuing orders, and hearing appeals.
So, if you happen to find yourself in front of an administrative agency, chances are you’re going to need and want a legal specialist familiar with both the area of law and the agency specifically.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified administrative lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local administrative attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.