Legislative Standards

In order to avoid arbitrary decisions, a statute or ordinance which has discretionary power in an administrative agency must furnish certain standards for those who administer such power.  The law must give standards to guide the administrative officers where the legislature delegates the power to an administrative agency in order to determine a state of things upon which an application of the law depends.  Such standards must not be unlimited, unreasonable, or permit arbitrary action by the administrative body[i].

A statute that confers a discretionary authority upon an administrator without properly defining the terms under which discretion is to be exercised is void as an unlawful delegation of legislative authority[ii].

Administrative agency decisions can be reversed as arbitrary or capricious if the decisions lack fairness and if it fails to indicate any course of reasoning and the exercise of judgment[iii].

According to separation of powers doctrine, any one of the standards mentioned below has to be satisfied to complete proper delegation of power to an administrative agency[iv].

  • Delegation of a legislative power is proper if there is constitutional authority for such delegation.
  • Delegation of administrative power is proper if the delegation contains specific standards and limitations to clearly define how the administrative agency should exercise its delegated power.

The standard requirement is inherent in the general rule prohibiting the delegation of legislative power.  Administrative agencies are not legislators, and therefore adequate standards must be included in the delegating legislation.  However, detailed standards are not required when in regulatory enactments under the police power.

[i] State v. Union Tank Car Co., 439 So. 2d 377 (La. 1983)

[ii] In re Judgment & Sale of Delinquent Properties for the Tax Year 1989, 167 Ill. 2d 161, 177 (Ill. 1995)

[iii] ACT-UP Triangle v. Commission for Health Servs., 345 N.C. 699, 707 (N.C. 1997)

[iv] Citizens’ Util. Ratepayer Bd. v. State Corp. Comm’n, 264 Kan. 363 (Kan. 1998)


Inside Legislative Standards