The Volokh Conspiracy

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Administrative Law

Are Sunstein and Vermeule Offering a Defensive Crouch Administrativism?

My contribution to the online symposium on Sunstein & Vermeule's Law & Leviathan


The Yale Journal on Regulation has just posted my contribution to the "Notice & Comment" blog symposium on Law & Leviathan by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule.  The other symposium contributions to the symposium may be found here.  I perviously blogged on the symposium here.

My contribution to the symposium is title "Defensive Crouch Administrativism." Here is a taste:

The administrative state is under siege. In Law & Leviathan: Redeeming the Administrative State, Professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule attempt a rescue. In the face of a "fundamental assault" on the premises of administrative law—an assault so severe they deploy that description twice within the span of three pages—Sunstein and Vermeule seek to explain why administrative law, in operation, is fundamentally moral and sound. The heart of some modest critiques may be true, they concede, but the leviathan of the book's title is sufficiently constrained by law to preserve its moral legitimacy.

Rather than offer the full-throated defenses of the administrative state each has offered elsewhere, in Law & Leviathan Sunstein and Vermeule suggest administrative law has developed a set of "surrogate safeguards" that enable the administrative state to protect public welfare while preventing the worst abuses of bureaucratic excess. These safeguards do not derive from constitutional text, however, nor are they to be found in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), but they are contained in administrative law doctrine as it has developed over the past 70 years. . . .

While situating the origins of such surrogate safeguards in the APA-era, when pointing to examples our authors sometimes focus on more recent doctrinal developments, including some they themselves opposed. As a consequence, parts of their argument seem to be something of a rearguard action, meant to preserve as much of the administrative state—and agency discretion—as can be salvaged in an age in which devotees of the New Coke may seem ascendant. Nowhere is this more clear than with their treatment of Auer deference, under which courts are obligated to defer to an agency's reasonable interpretation of its own ambiguous regulation.

You can read the whole thing here.  I will also have a longer review of their book in Regulation.