What Is Delegated Legislation?

Delegated legislation is the term usually applied to rules and standards that a legislative body has not gone to the trouble of writing itself, but has left to an administrative bureaucracy to work out on its own. Strictly speaking, as the State of Wisconsin explains in its own primer on the subject, states with a separation of powers cannot delegate lawmaking away from the legislature. Nevertheless, the doctrine persists in law.

Delegated legislation has its limits and is closely monitored by the courts. In one case, cited by the State of Wisconsin, the state legislature passed a bill that gave the state's Department of Transportation total discretion over the length of time that drivers' license suspensions would be effective. This allowed the Department to write its own standards that would then have the force of law. On appeal, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned the law as being too broad and for failing to give adequate guidance to the state's DOT. Where adequate guidelines exist, however, courts have generally been willing to grant a wide degree of latitude to legislatures in delegating specifics to the administrative entities charged with carrying out complex, technically demanding laws by promulgating rules for enforcement.