This Comment seeks to resolve an ongoing dispute among courts regarding the correct interpretation of “contrary to law” in 18 U.S.C. § 545, a statute that criminalizes the unlawful importation of goods. In particular, courts disagree about whether “contrary to law” includes administrative regulatory violations, which would massively expand the applicability of § 545’s severe criminal penalties. 

This Comment argues that analyzing previous versions of § 545 and applying canons of statutory interpretation provide support for a narrow interpretation of the statute. But these lines of analysis do not definitively establish that this interpretation is correct. As a result, this Comment considers the implications of the nondelegation doctrine, which provides a more conclusive resolution to the ongoing circuit split. Specifically, because of the structure of § 545 and because the statute itself provides no authority for agencies to promulgate new regulations, allowing administrative violations to serve as predicate offenses for § 545 would potentially permit agencies to independently use this statute to transform civil regulatory violations into criminal offenses. Therefore, to avoid separation of powers concerns, only regulatory violations that are explicitly criminalized by other statutes should qualify as predicate violations that can trigger § 545’s penalties.