Administrative law is a very pertinent area of study for anyone who follows closely the actions of government and how it affects the people as a whole.
The best place to start in defining administrative law is to consider what its goal is, by its mere existence. Why do we even have this type of law in our governmental structure? Administrative law serves the purpose of defining the legal powers of government agencies. And the laws that define the legal powers of government are summed up as administrative law. The law guides the agencies to enforce their powers and use appropriate action to punish those who disobey administrative law.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency that would follow administrative law. A statute, or law, has created the agency through the legislative branch of government. This law, which created the agency, also enacts rules which govern, and these are called substantial rules.
Those rules which the agency itself would create would be called interpretive rules. Substantial rules are like law and enforced appropriately and have little room for interpretation. Because interpretative rules are not in place through the actions of the legislature but through the actions of the agency, they have more room for interpretation.
Procedural rules are also established and are necessary for the agency to survive. Examples would be rules of conduct for informal consultations and formal hearings as well. These rules are not also strictly adhered to like substantial rules. Agency procedural rules encourage participation by the public and also protect the rights of the client.
Hybrid rules are a combination of actions by the legislative and judicial functions. A witness who is cross-examined while gathering information to make a new rule is a judicial function within the legislative function of the actual rulemaking itself.
Agency rulemaking can also take the shape of formal or informal. An informal rulemaking procedure is just what it sounds like — it is completely informal. It requires no trial-type hearing, there is no notice of the proposed rule, comments from interested parties are not heard and there is a statement of basis and purpose of rule. A formal hearing, on the other hand, does have a hearing, a notice of proposed rule, allows evidence and arguments and statements of findings and publishes the final rule.
Policy statements are also available and explain the objectives of the actions an agency takes. Sometimes, statements are passed out within an agency to explore the possibilities of having uniformity in decision making. On other occasions, policy statements are public and they serve the purpose of clarifying any conflicting situations which may offer a wide area for interpretation. Yet, agency policy statements are not rules and do not need to be subject to rulemaking procedures in an agency.
Administrative law may sound very complicated in its procedures and types of operations. But it really is very simple. Look around your own town and state and see if you can identify different agencies which serve the purpose of governing the people without needing to use our already overwhelmed court system.