An Enduring, Evolving Separation of Powers

Jon D. Michaels

University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law

April 1, 2014

Columbia Law Review, Vol. 115, 2015, Forthcoming
UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 14-11

This Article sets forth the theory of an enduring, evolving separation of powers, one that checks and balances state power in whatever form that power happens to take. It shows how this constitutional commitment was first renewed and refashioned in the 1930s and 1940s, wherein the construction of a secondary regime of administrative checks and balances triangulated regulatory power among politically appointed agency leaders, an independent civil service, and a vibrant and pluralistic civil society. And, it supplies the legal precedent, corrective blueprint, and normative imperative for subsequent generations (including ours) to reaffirm that commitment whenever new threats to limited, rivalrous government arise.

This commitment to an enduring, evolving separation of powers helps explain our past and our present — and it readies us for the future. First, reframing the administrative state through the lens of an enduring, evolving separation of powers provides a more seamless connection to the Founding. The twentieth-century shift to administrative governance toppled the Framers’ tripartite constitutional regime and concentrated federal power within the Executive Branch. But the subsequent construction of an administrative separation of powers represented an act of constitutional restoration, anchoring New Deal governance firmly within the constitutional tradition of employing rivalrous institutional counterweights to promote democratic accountability and compliance with the rule of law.

Second, this reframing resolves seemingly intractable normative and jurisprudential struggles in contemporary administrative law, harmonizing today’s leading (but conflicting) theories and doctrines of public administration.

And, third, this reframing prepares us for life after the administrative state, a reality that is already beckoning. Increasingly, the forces of privatization are consolidating state and commercial power in ways that compromise administrative separation of powers. Understanding privatization not as a sui generis phenomenon but instead simply as the latest, perhaps greatest, threat to an enduring, evolving separation of powers enables (and obligates) us to conjure up new institutional counterweights that reestablish limited, rational, and rivalrous government notwithstanding the remarkable, seemingly inexorable, turn to the market.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

Keywords: Administrative Law, Separation of Powers, Privatization, Constitutional Law, Public Administration, Bureaucracy, Government Contracting

JEL Classification: K23, L33, H11, J38, J45

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Date posted: June 2, 2014 ; Last revised: July 16, 2014

Suggested Citation

Michaels, Jon D., An Enduring, Evolving Separation of Powers (April 1, 2014). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 115, 2015, Forthcoming; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 14-11. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2444396

Contact Information

Jon D. Michaels (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
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