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Research Guide: Administrative Law: Introduction

Rules and Regulations are Primary Law

Rules and Regulations are Primary Law

Primary law comes from the three branches of government: Judicial (cases), Legislative (statutes) and Executive (agency law and hearings).

Administrative Agencies:

  • Are established by the lawmaking body (legislative branch)
  • Conduct legislative (rulemaking), executive, and judicial (hearings) activities
  • Exist at federal and state levels

Independent Agencies

  • Are created by Congress; President can appoint but does not control
  • Examples: National Labor Relations Board, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation



Until 1936, federal agencies were not required to make their rules and regulations available to the public. Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935) changed that. In Panama, the federal government prosecuted a violation of a regulation. The Attorney General took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before realizing that the regulation upon which the case was based had been revoked before the suit had begun. Because of this, Congress passed the Federal Register Act, which provided for the publication of the Federal Register, which published the regulations of federal agencies in chronological order. This made locating the regulations difficult, so in 1937, Congress amended the act and created the Code of Federal Regulations, which codified the regulations and made them accessible by subject. In 1946, Congress passed the Administrative Procedure Act, which required the publication of proposed rules in the Federal Register, thus giving the public notice and opportunity to comment on the rule-making process.

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