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Judicial Role

5 USCS § 706 explains the scope of judicial review with regards to administrative act.  The reviewing court shall:

  • decide all relevant questions of law;
  • interpret constitutional and statutory provisions; and
  • decide the meaning and applicability of the terms of an administrative action.

While deciding the above, the reviewing court has the power to compel performance of administrative action which is unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.  The reviewing court is empowered to hold an administrative action unlawful and also to set aside the same, if found to be not in accordance with law, contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity, or in excess of statutory power.  The court shall review the whole record or those parts of it cited by a party in making the above determinations.

There are wide differences between administrative agencies and courts.  Origin and purpose of the movement for administrative regulation and traditional scope of judicial process will be disregarded on assimilating the relation of administrative bodies and the courts to the relationship between lower and upper court.  Courts will wander off their jurisdictional area unless they observe the vital difference between the functions of administrative and judicial tribunals.  Agencies should be free to frame their own rules of procedure and inquiry capable of permitting them to discharge their innumerable duties.[i] An agency which is designed to effect policies follows inquisitorial proceedings.  On the other hand, courts are structured in adjudicative model and the proceedings followed there are adversarial.[ii]

The standards of judicial review was discussed in United States v. Morgan, 313 U.S. 409 (U.S. 1941).  The Morgan court observed that courts need not look into the mental processes behind administrative decisions and that the integrity of the administrative process must be respected.  Moreover, administrative process and judicial process should be mutual instrumentalities of justice and appropriate independence of each should be respected by the other.  However, substantial evidence i.e., a level of proof that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion must be present to support an administrative decision.[iii]

In reviewing an administrative action, courts should not act as super-commission or advisers to administrative agency.  Courts should themselves frame the extent to which they can use judicial power in reviewing administrative action.  In Calcek v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13564 (M.D. Pa. 2003), it was observed that it is the Administrative Law Judge’s duty to investigate the facts and develop the arguments both for and against granting benefits and the reviewing court has no function to provide justification for the Administrative Law Judge’s decision

In reviewing administrative decisions, courts must assure that:

  • the administrative agency has employed essentially fair process in framing administrative decision;[iv] and that
  • the administrative agency complied with legislative policy as expressed in the agency’s enabling statute.[v]

The reviewing court is empowered to invalidate those administrative decisions where governmental regularity has lapsed into mere will, and overrule a regulation which is inconsistent with the statutory language or is an unreasonable implementation of the statute.

[i] FCC v. Pottsville Broadcasting Co., 309 U.S. 134, 143 (U.S. 1940).

[ii] Amburgey v. Barnhart, 288 F. Supp. 2d 821, 834 (S.D. Tex. 2003

[iii] Phillips v. Merit Systems Protection Bd., 666 F. Supp. 109, 110 (E.D. Tex. 1987)

[iv] Phillips v. Merit Systems Protection Bd., 666 F. Supp. 109, 110 (E.D. Tex. 1987

[v] United States v. Haggar Apparel Co., 526 U.S. 380 (U.S. 1999)

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