"Administrative law" describes the legal structure of much of the executive branch of government, particularly the quasi-independent agencies, and the procedural constraints under which they operate. Most of these constraints are statutory; those that do involve the Constitution flow chiefly from the doctrine of SEPARATION OF POWERS and the DUE PROCESS clause. To comprehend the effects of either of these on administrative law one must understand the growth of the administrative agency in the modern American state.
The early years of the twentieth century saw both a growth in the executive branch of the federal government and, perhaps more important, increased expectations about tasks it should perform. Some have seen these changes as a natural concomitant of industrialization; some as a growth in the power of a new professional class claiming to possess a nonpolitical expertise; some as the result of political pressure developed by farmers and small-town residents who looked to government to contain corporate juggernauts; some as the consequence of the desire of those very juggernauts to gain government sanction shielding them from the competitive forces of the marketplace. Whatever the causes, federal, state, and municipal governments took on new tasks in the closing decades of the nineteenth and the opening ones of the twentieth centuries.
Agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Reserve Board bore witness to national perceptions that the existing economic and social mechanisms left something to be desired and that increased government intervention was the solution. At the local level the rise of social welfare agencies and zoning boards bespoke similar concerns.
With the coming of the Great Depression the federal government sought to revive the economy through numerous public programs designed both to coordinate sectors of the nation's industrial and commercial life (the WAGNER NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT, the AGRICULTURAL ADJUSTMENT ACT, the NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RECOVERY ACT) and to create public jobs to reduce unemployment and increase consumer demand (the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration). Such agencies, generating regulations under the statutory umbrella of broad enabling legislation, came to be a standard feature on the American scene.
In a parallel development state governments created a number of agencies to coordinate and regulate everything from barbers to new car dealers, from avocado marketing to the licensing of physicians. Some of these boards appear to function chiefly as means of controlling entry into occupations and thereby shielding current practitioners from competition, but all function as branches of the government armed with at least some forms of regulatory power.
In some respects such state and national agencies represent not a new form of...