Regulatory Law deals with procedures established by federal, state, and local administrative agencies, as opposed to laws created by the legislature (statutory laws) or by court decisions (case law). Regulations can relate to a large array of executive branch activities, such as applications for licenses, oversight of environmental laws, and administration of social services like welfare, just to name a few.
Functions of Administrative Law
Also known as administrative law, regulatory laws can include everything from rulemaking to adjudication and enforcement. In other words, administrative laws often relate to functions akin to all three branches of government (i.e., legislative, judicial, and executive), but all of them flow from agencies that are considered to be a part of the executive branch. To demonstrate how regulatory law is often like three branches of government in one, consider how administrative laws usually come into being:
1. The legislative branch passes a law authorizing the creation of a new executive branch agency to enforce a set of laws (for example, the Environmental Protection Agency in order to enforce certain environmental clean up and preservation laws).
2. The statute authorizes the agency to pass regulations to meet the goals of its mandate and to enforce its rules. Thus the legislative rulemaking authority is delegated, in part, to the administrative agency.
3. The agency enacts regulations (sometimes they require legislative approval, sometimes they do not), then begins to enforce those rules (e.g., through fining or arrests). The enforcement of laws is a traditionally executive function.
4. The agency may also have procedures for hearings, and the results of those proceedings can become precedent on agency policies. These hearings are akin to the trial procedures for the judicial branch.
While administrative agencies are still a part of the executive branch and are still checked by the other two branches of government, their regulations and enforcement schema often resemble their own subsystem of government, inclusive of functions for all three branches. Consequently, when discussing any law that may be administered by an agency, it is important to look not just to the statutory law or the case law, but also to any regulatory rules and decisions related to that matter. Failing to do so may amount to overlooking an enormous portion of the body of law affecting that topic.
Non Executive Branch Agencies
Not all regulatory law flows from the executive branch. The U.S. Congress has also created several judicial bodies called Article I tribunals. These tribunals have different levels of independence from the executive and legislative branches, and serve functions such as reviewing agency decisions, military courts-martial appeal courts, ancillary courts with judges appointed by judicial branch appeals court judges, or administrative agencies.
Article I tribunals are often controversial and their power has frequently been challenged before the United States Supreme Court. So far, the Supreme Court has supported the existence of Article I tribunals, but has held that their power must be limited and, when a potential deprivation of life, liberty, or property is at stake, their decisions will normally be subject to review by a judicial branch court.
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