Depoliticizing Administrative Law
36 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2008 Last revised: 18 Aug 2008
Date Written: June 26, 2008
A large body of empirical evidence demonstrates that judicial review of agency action is highly politicized, in the sense that Republican appointees are significantly more likely to invalidate liberal agency decisions than conservative ones, while Democratic appointees are significantly more likely to invalidate conservative agency decisions than liberal ones. These results hold for both (a) judicial review of agency interpretations of law and (b) judicial review of agency decisions for "arbitrariness" on questions of policy and fact. On the federal courts of appeals, the most highly politicized voting patterns are found on unified panels, that is, on panels consisting solely of either Democratic or Republican appointees. On the Supreme Court, politicized administrative law is also unmistakable, as the more conservative justices show a distinctive willingness to vote to invalidate liberal agency decisions, and the more liberal justices show a distinctive willingness to vote to invalidate conservative agency decisions. Indeed, it is possible to "rank" justices in terms of the extent to which their voting patterns are politicized. The empirical results raise an obvious question: What might be done to depoliticize administrative law? Three sets of imaginable solutions have promise: (1) self-correction without formal doctrinal change, produced by a form of "debiasing" that might follow from a clearer judicial understanding of the current situation; (2) doctrinal innovations, as, for example, through rethinking existing deference principles and giving agencies more room to maneuver; and (3) institutional change, through novel voting rules and requirements of mixed panels. An investigation of these solutions has implications for other domains in which judges are divided along political lines, and indeed in which nonjudicial officials show some kind of politicized division or bias.
Keywords: Chevron, group polarization, legal realizm, politicized judicial voting
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