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Administrative Law Research Guide: Overview

This guide is intended for students who are learning about administrative law and its sources, and to help scholars and practitioners locate materials in the library and online. Content additions are gradual but steady. Please check back often!

Getting Started

You will find information on each labeled tab in this guide. Some tabs also have subsidiary pages that are reached by using the drop-down arrow on the main tab. For example, the main Federal Agencies tab has information about agency types, functions, statutory authority, etc. The tab also has a drop-down list with selected agency information.   

Locating materials

For print materials at Eckstein Library on the topic of administrative law, please consult the Books in the Collection tab. It includes a broad range of administrative law resources, and a link to Marqcat, the Marquette catalog, for more titles. On the Books tab, you will find treatises, study aids, practitioner materials, subject serials, and monographs that are available in the law library. 

Some databases, like GovInfo.gove-CFRWisconsin Legislative Documents, and Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII), are free and available to any user. Other databases are restricted by personal password or MU login credentials.  Databases for researching primary law are included throughout the narrative of the guide.  Look at the Databases & Websites tab, too. 


Navigating administrative law sources can be complex for a newer researcher. Consider using secondary sources for background and context. Check the Books in the Collection tab for examples of these resources.  


Please ask a reference librarian for help if you have research questions!

Federal Administrative Law

Administrative law, also called regulatory law, is legal authority created by the executive branch of government.  In the federal system, the agencies of the executive branch have authority granted by Congress to promulgate regulations ("rulemaking"); conduct hearings and issue decisions in administrative agency adjudications; investigate and enforce regulations; and issue guidance for regulatory compliance. The President has administrative authority to issue proclamations and executive orders that have the force of law. 

Executive branch authority derives from the federal Constitution and federal statutes, and agency power is limited to what is given by Congress. An agency's ability to regulate activities comes from statutes that establish the agency's authority generally, and also from specific legislation that empowers the agency to enforce a statute via regulation. When courts review an agency's rules or other actions, deference is given to the agency unless it acted beyond the authority properly delegated by Congress. 

Administrative Law in the States

Administrative law exists in all 50 separate state systems and operates similarly to the federal paradigm. States differ in their use of terminology, agencies and agency structures, and rulemaking requirements. Once you know the state jurisdiction that controls, learn the state law that applies to regulations. For example, most states have administrative procedure statutes that must be considered when researching a regulatory issue.  In Wisconsin, the statute is Wis. Stat. Ch. 227, Administrative Procedure and Review.

Wisconsin regulations are called rules. States usually choose one word, but "regulation" and "rule" sometimes are used interchangeably. State legislatures give state agencies the power to create administrative law just like Congress empowers federal agencies. Agency authority may originate directly from a state's constitution.  For example, the Wisconsin Constitution specifically grants citizens the right to vote in state elections. Wisconsin statutes also provide authority for the state to regulate elections.  

Check the WI Regulations and WI Agencies tabs for source assistance. For other states, consult the Databases & Website tab for suggested links to state administrative codes, agencies, and relevant secondary sources.

Local Administrative Law

County, city, town, and village ordinances are authorized by state statutes and constitutions and can be considered a form of administrative law.  Like the 50 states, counties and municipalities operate with agency-like departments and commissions.  Some local government agencies have policy rules and the authority to adjudicate – for example, Milwaukee has a municipal civil service commission for employment disputes. Check municipal websites for departments and commissions, which often have links to enabling statutes and ordinances.

Research state statutes and local ordinances to find law that governs an issue. "Home rule" powers differ across states, and also within states, depending on the political subdivision (city, county, town, village) and the specific statutory enabling authority conferred.  Commercial legal databases have some county and city primary materials.  Research state enabling laws in an annotated statutory code (Westlaw, Lexis) to find decisions about localities' home rule powers that have been tested in the courts.   

Free websites offer ordinances for selected localities (see box at right).  Often, a county, city, or town will post its current ordinances on the local government website.

Websites for Municipal Ordinances

Marqcat Catalog - Click on the blue MARQCAT for advanced search options

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