From Technocrat to Democrat

9 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2014 Last revised: 20 May 2014

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: March 25, 2014


There is an epistemic argument for judicial deference to the decisions of administrative agencies and legislatures: courts do not have easy access to relevant information, and they should defer to those who do. People who are steeped in technical issues, and alert to the importance of those issues, might well be inclined to embrace judicial modesty. In administrative law, then-Professor Stephen Breyer pioneered the view that judge-made doctrines reflect unarticulated assumptions about regulatory policy, and he urged that such doctrines could not be evaluated without a sense of the underlying substance and the likely human consequences. In light of the complexity of the substance, Breyer argued for a degree of modesty. On the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer has often embraced judicial modesty as well, emphasizing the importance and relevance of complex judgments of fact (sometimes with the aid of what we might call "the Breyer Appendix"). The principal qualification is his insistence on reasoned decision making, which he appears to regard as a quid pro quo for deference, as an aspect of the rule of law, and as an indispensable check on arbitrariness.

Keywords: Administrative law, Stephen Breyer, technocratic

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., From Technocrat to Democrat (March 25, 2014). Harvard Law Review, Forthcoming, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-10, Available at SSRN: or

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics