What is meant by the term “administrative law"?
The term “administrative law" describes the operating rules known as regulations that apply to federal, state and local government agencies and departments. The purpose and goal of administrative law systems is to make certain that agency rules are applied fairly and consistently.
In the American constitutional system of government there are three co-equal branches:
· The legislative branch, i.e. the U.S Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), a state legislature or a local government body such as a city council or county Board of Supervisors.
· The executive branch, i.e. the U.S. President and the Cabinet; a state governor or a city mayor.
· The judicial branch, i.e. the federal judiciary and state court systems.
Administrative agency regulations are based on the legislatively enacted rules or statutes that set up a specific government agency or department.
For purposes of this article, let’s consider the Social Security Administration or SSA. SSA is part of the federal U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. SSA regulations are based on federal Social Security Act, 42 USC Sec. 301 et seq.. The actual SSA regulations are located at 20 CFR Sec. 400 et seq..
SSA regulations have the force of law within SSA own quasi-judicial or administrative law system. The decisions of SSA Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) may be reviewed by more senior ALJs when an unfavorable decision is appealed to the SSA Appeals Council. The Appeals Council may take one of three actions with a case on appeal. Usually, the Appeals Council affirms or agrees with the decision of the ALJ who actually heard the case. But the Appeals Council may find that mistakes were made in the decision. If this happens, the Appeals Council it may vacate or throw out an ALJ decision. The Appeals Council may order that the matter be scheduled for a rehearing. Rarely, the Appeals Council will throw out an ALJ decision and replace it with their own decision which reverses or changes the original ALJ decision. SSA administrative hearing final decisions are considered to be the findings of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
The Veterans’ Administration and the IRS are examples of other federal administrative agencies that have their administrative regulations and administrative law adjudication systems. Other federal and state agencies, i.e., county welfare and unemployment benefit programs, have their own administrative rules and administrative appeal processes. Most of these systems are not as complex as the SSA, VA and IRS systems.