Viva La Deference? Rethinking the Balance between Administrative and Judicial Discretion

32 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2014

See all articles by Ronald A. Cass

Ronald A. Cass

Center for the Rule of Law; Cass & Associates, PC; Boston University School of Law; George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: September 14, 2014


America’s constitutional structure relies on checks and balances to prevent a concentration of excessive discretionary power in the hands of any individual governmental official or body, promoting effective government while protecting individual liberty and state sovereignty. Federal courts have been sensitive to threats to upend this balance of power where one branch of the federal government intrudes on powers assigned to another but less so to changes that increase federal power overall ― including, notably, unchecked discretionary power of administrative officials. An elastic commerce clause and ineffective non-delegation doctrine leave judicial review of administrative action for consistency with statutorily assigned tasks as an especially important safeguard. The Chevron doctrine, however, as it has often been deployed, grants deference to a large number of administrative actions on a fictive supposition that Congress intentionally conferred discretionary authority for those actions. Although the doctrine is defended, reasonably, as constraining a different sort of discretionary government authority ― resting in the hands of judges rather than administrators ― Chevron deference has reduced the effectiveness of review as a limitation on administrative power. This article looks at the changes in constitutional limits on official power, the function of the Chevron doctrine, and potential alternatives as a check on discretionary administrative power, concluding that a stronger requirement of actual grants of discretion is more legally defensible and more consistent with the rule of law.

Keywords: deference, administrative law, separation of powers, judicial discretion, administrative discretion, delegation, Chevron doctrine

JEL Classification: D73, K19, K23, K29

Suggested Citation

Cass, Ronald A., Viva La Deference? Rethinking the Balance between Administrative and Judicial Discretion (September 14, 2014). George Washington Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Ronald A. Cass (Contact Author)

Center for the Rule of Law ( email )

9907 Georgetown Pike
Suite 148
Great Falls, VA 22066
United States
703-438-8832 (Phone)

Cass & Associates, PC ( email )

10560 Fox Forest Drive
Great Falls, VA 22066
United States
703-438-7590 (Phone)
703-438-7591 (Fax)


Boston University School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

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

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics