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Administrative Law

This guide addresses federal administrative law research in general. Please consult topical research guides for information related to specific subject matter and agency procedures.

Introduction to Administrative Law

Federal administrative law is comprised of rules and regulations promulgated by executive branch agencies, as well as related adjudications, orders, and other agency actions. It also includes executive orders and proclamations. 

Administrative rules and regulations are published sequentially in the Federal Register (FR) and later codified by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Agency case law is available in popular online legal resources (e.g. Westlaw, Lexis), on agency websites, and in specialized agency publications particularly those in looseleaf format or digital equivalent. 

While federal agencies are part of the Executive Branch, they are authorized to act through congressional delegation through statute, commonly referred to as “enabling statutes.” Thus, agencies are limited to taking action within the authority delegated to them in the United States Code. Annotations to the U.S. Code often provide information about related regulations. Researchers may also wish to consult the CFR’s Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules to match U.S. Code provisions with implementing regulations. Agencies are also required to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et. seq. These requirements include providing the public with notice of rulemaking, the text of proposed rules, and the opportunity to comment.

Agency Websites

If is often useful to begin federal administrative law research by visiting the website of the agency with authority to regulate the applicable subject matter. These websites typically provide an overview of the agency’s structure, current regulations, administrative decisions, and guidance documents.

Several reference resources may be useful to help determine the appropriate agency or agencies that have jurisdiction over the relevant subject matter. See Reference Sources in the left menu bar.