Administrative Constitutionalism

40 Pages Posted: 26 May 2013 Last revised: 9 Sep 2013

Date Written: May 23, 2013


Administrative constitutionalism is increasingly becoming a central subject of study. Administrative constitutionalism includes not just the application of established constitutional requirements by administrative agencies, but in addition the elaboration of new constitutional understandings by administrative actors and the construction of the administrative state. This attention to administrative constitutionalism is overdue, as it represents a main mechanism by which constitutional meaning is elaborated and implemented today. But recently offered examples of administrative constitutionalism are notably divergent, suggesting a need for some exegesis of administrative constitutionalism’s different dimensions.

Identifying administrative constitutionalism’s various forms highlights the challenges confronting it as a form of constitutional interpretation. Central to these is a legitimacy dilemma: What justifies administrative efforts to move the nation beyond recognized constitutional requirements to develop new constitutional understandings, especially if doing so means pushing at the limits of agencies’ delegated authority and acting in ways not initiated by political leaders? In this Essay, I argue that administrative constitutionalism in fact represents a particularly legitimate and beneficial form of constitutional development. But the accountability challenges it poses are real, particularly given the frequent difficulty involved in identifying instances of administrative constitutionalism in action. Agencies’ constitutional engagement occurs in the context of implementing programs and enforcing statutes, and often agencies do not expressly engage with the constitutional dimensions of their actions — indeed, these dimensions may only become apparent over time. Similarly, courts are rarely open about the constitutional or law-creative aspects of their development of administrative law. Given administrative constitutionalism’s attenuated democratic accountability, greater transparency about this method of constitutional development is essential for its legitimacy.

Suggested Citation

Metzger, Gillian E., Administrative Constitutionalism (May 23, 2013). Texas Law Review, Vol. 91, June 2013, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 13-350, Available at SSRN:

Gillian E. Metzger (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

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