The False Promise of Fiduciary Government

67 Pages Posted: 9 May 2014 Last revised: 22 Nov 2014

See all articles by Seth Davis

Seth Davis

University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Date Written: May 7, 2014


This Article critiques the borrowing of private law concepts to develop doctrines of judicial review in public law. A rising chorus of scholars has argued for a fiduciary theory of government designed to constrain political discretion through judicial review based upon the model of private fiduciary duties. Treating politicians and bureaucrats as fiduciaries, they argue, promises a workable judicial solution to the problem of faction in legislative and administrative decisionmaking. This Article argues the promise of fiduciary government is a false one. There are problems of fit, intent, and function with fiduciary government. Politicians and bureaucrats are not like private fiduciaries because they do not serve discrete classes of beneficiaries and are not subject to demands that can be distilled into a discrete maximand. Fiduciary government cannot be founded in the intent of the Founders or of Congress. Moreover, fiduciary government has not functioned well where courts have experimented with it. Either the analogy to fiduciary law operates at such a high level of generality that it simply restates public law problems in different terms, or it imports freestanding fiduciary principles that yield unworkable constraints on political decisionmaking. The failure of fiduciary government is instructive, however, on the promises and potential pitfalls of translating between public and private law.

Keywords: Public Law, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Trusts, Corporate Law, Fiduciary Law

Suggested Citation

Davis, Seth, The False Promise of Fiduciary Government (May 7, 2014). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 89, No. 3, 2014, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2014-62, Available at SSRN:

Seth Davis (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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