Of Sheepdogs and Ventriloquists: Government Lawyers in Two New Deal Agencies

12 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2015 Last revised: 8 Jan 2021

See all articles by Daniel R. Ernst

Daniel R. Ernst

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2021


From the neo-Weberian literature on state-building and the political sociology of the legal profession, one might expect government lawyers to be sheepdogs, nipping at the heels of straying administrators, supplying their agencies with the bureaucratic autonomy so often missing in American government. In this contribution to “Serious Fun” a symposium in honor of John Henry Schlegel of the University at Buffalo School of Law, I report my preliminary findings for two agencies created during the Hundred Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Recovery Administration. I suggest that the neo-Weberian model tends to minimize the lawyers’ agency as political actors. In particular, the New Deal lawyers’ projection of their own preferences upon general statutory delegations of legislative power, which they then interpreted authoritatively, could make them less the faithful agents of their master’s voice than ventriloquists in pursuit of their own political agenda.

Keywords: legal profession, legal history, administrative law

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Ernst, Daniel R., Of Sheepdogs and Ventriloquists: Government Lawyers in Two New Deal Agencies (2021). Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 69, No.1, Pp. 17-28., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2566750 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2566750

Daniel R. Ernst (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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