Administrative Law Explained

In the most recent version of the Kitsap County Code Compliance Ordnance ( Title 5) the county proposed bypassing the District Court in the adjudication of code compliance issues and establishing a County Hearing Examiner to adjudicate complaints and impose sanctions. What this amounts to is bypassing the traditional civil law processes and imposing administrative  law.

What exactly do I mean by administrative law or administrative power? Put simply, administrative acts are binding or constraining edicts that come, not through law, but through other mechanisms or pathways. For example, when an executive agency issues a rule constraining Americans—barring an activity that results in pollution, for instance, or restricting how citizens can use their land—it is an attempt to exercise binding legislative power not through an act of Congress, but through an administrative edict. Similarly, when an executive agency adjudicates a violation of one of these edicts—in order to impose a fine or some other penalty—it is an attempt to exercise binding judicial power not through a judicial act, but again through an administrative act.

In a way we can think of administrative law as a form of off-road driving. The Constitution offers two avenues of binding power—acts of Congress and acts of the courts. Administrative acts by executive agencies are a way of driving off-road, exercising power through other pathways. For those in the driver’s seat, this can be quite exhilarating. For the rest of us, it’s a little unnerving.

The History and Danger of Administrative Law

The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Philip Hamburger Columbia Law School,  on May 6, 2014, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.

There are many complaints about administrative law—including that it is arbitrary, that it is a burden on the economy, and that it is an intrusion on freedom.

The question I will address here is whether administrative law is unlawful, and I will focus on constitutional history. Those who forget history, it is often said, are doomed to repeat it. And this is what has happened in the United States with the rise of administrative law—or, more accurately, administrative power.

Administrative law is commonly defended as a new sort of power, a product of the 19th and the 20th centuries that developed to deal with the problems of modern society in all its complexity. From this perspective, the Framers of the Constitution could not have anticipated it and the Constitution could not have barred it. What I will suggest, in contrast, is that administrative power is actually very old. It revives what used to be called prerogative or absolute power, and it is thus something that the Constitution centrally prohibited. More…

Complete Text The History and Danger of Administrative Law

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