Intelligence Law School - Course 1: Lesson 6.2.4 Federal Statute vs. Agency Rule

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6.2 Priority of Blackletter Primary Authority

6.2.4 Federal Statute vs. Agency Rule

Lecture Audio

Annotated Lecture Transcript

6.2.4 Federal Statute vs. Agency Rule

So, what happens if a new statute conflicts with existing administrative rules?


Well, the most basic answer is that statutes enacted by Congress will always prevail over conflicting administrative rules promulgated by an agency because statutes derive their force directly from the Constitution which vests Congress with lawmaking power whereas administrative rules derive their force from statutes enacted by Congress.

 Administrative agencies don’t have any constitutional powers at all.

Whenever an agency promulgates a rule, its power to do so has always come from some sort of statute enacted by Congress.

Without a statute enacted by Congress, an agency wouldn’t have the authority to exist let alone promulgate binding administrative rules that might have more legal force than a statute.

This is the general understanding.


It becomes more nuanced in practice.

As I mentioned before in the administrative law section, courts give administrative agencies very broad deference whenever they promulgate rules interpreting their own enabling statutes.

I mentioned the famous Chevron case and Chevron Deference back in Lesson 5 on administrative law, so I won’t bore you with it again here. 

Just remember that, although statutes are more powerful than administrative rules and will always prevail when there’s a direct conflict, courts will almost always bend over backward to avoid finding a direct conflict and will defer to the agency’s judgment and uphold a challenged rule in most cases.


I’ll explain this more in later courses on when I talk about judicial review of agency action under Chapter 7 of the Administrative Procedure Act.  

For now, you understand the basic hierarchy of primary legal sources and some of the most notable nuances.


In the expanded edition of this course available on iTunes and, I include a lengthy discussion of statutory interpretation that gives you an advanced understanding of how judges interpret ambiguous blackletter provisions and resolve conflicts between competing sources of primary legal authority.

The hours of extra lectures in the expanded edition of Course I address a lot of additional legal topics not covered in the free version of the Introduction to Legal Sources in U.S. Intelligence Law.

You might want to give them a listen if you have access to a copy or want to buy your own on iTunes or Amazon and help us earn the funds we need to be able to complete the rest of the substantive intelligence law courses we have planned for our comprehensive U.S. intelligence law school series on

It’s available on iTunes and for $49.95 and every sale helps us fund production of future free intelligence law courses for 


I’ll tell you a little more about the expanded edition at the end.



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© 2012 David Alan Jordan. All rights reserved.