Separation of powers is the doctrine by which the governmental powers are divided among the executive, legislative and judicial branch of the government. The main intention behind the separation of power doctrine is prevention of abuse of powers. Doctrine of separation of powers is qualified by the doctrine of checks and balances. The system of checks and balances intends to allow each branch to restrain abuse by another branch.
Generally, the separation of power doctrine cannot be disturbed. It means that one branch of the government cannot intrude into the power of another branch. However, administrative agencies, which fall under the executvie branch of government, can adjudicate rights of parties without infringing the constitutional separation of powers[i].
In Hardin Oldsmobile v. New Motor Vehicle Bd., 52 Cal. App. 4th 585 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 1997), it was observed that an administrative agency can constitutionally hold hearings, determine facts, apply the law to those facts, and order relief. This applies as long as such activities are authorized by statute or legislation and the essential judicial power remains ultimately in the courts. However, the administrative execution of judicial functions must be pursuant to legislative authorization. Such authorization can be constitutionally inadequate if it does not meet the reasonable legitimate regulatory purpose test or if it seizes the essential judicial power from the courts.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 9 of the U.S. constitution says that the congress can establish “legislative courts” to serve as special tribunals to examine and determine different matters arising between the government and others. However, some case law holds the opinion that it the court has drawn the line of permissibility when it finds that an agency purports to enter enforceable judgments[ii].
[i] State ex rel. Keasling v. Keasling, 442 N.W.2d 118 (Iowa 1989)