Open Minds and Harmless Errors: Judicial Review of Post-Promulgation Notice and Comment

64 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2015 Last revised: 25 Jan 2016

See all articles by Kristin E. Hickman

Kristin E. Hickman

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Mark Thomson

Clare Locke LLP

Date Written: March 25, 2015


In 2012, the Government Accountability Office surprised many administrative law specialists by reporting that fully 35% of major rules and 44% of nonmajor rules issued by federal government agencies lacked pre-promulgation notice and opportunity for public comment. For at least most of the major rules, however, the issuing agencies accepted comments from the public after issuing the rule, and in most of those cases, the agencies followed up with new final rules, responding to comments and often making changes in response thereto. Post-promulgation notice and comment do not precisely comply with the Administrative Procedure Act, yet are arguably close enough that some courts have felt compelled to uphold them. Challenges to rules adopted in this manner have created a jurisprudential mess, as courts struggle to balance their duty to enforce the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act with the practical realities of the modern administrative state. The sheer extent of the practice demonstrates the need for a more consistent judicial response. This Article explores the different approaches courts have taken to judicial review of post-promulgation notice and comment. The Article concludes that the all-or-nothing models embraced by some courts are doctrinally and practically untenable, but that the middle-ground alternatives employed by other courts thus far do not ensure that post-promulgation notice and comment function as an equivalent substitute for pre-promulgation procedures. The Article proposes a solution to the middle-ground problem, first by reviewing the doctrinal theory surrounding agency rulemaking and then articulating a set of factors for courts to employ in evaluating post-promulgation notice and comment case by case.

Keywords: Administrative Procedure Act, rulemaking, notice-and-comment, judicial review, administrative law, open mind standard, harmless error

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K23, K41

Suggested Citation

Hickman, Kristin E. and Thomson, Mark, Open Minds and Harmless Errors: Judicial Review of Post-Promulgation Notice and Comment (March 25, 2015). 101 Cornell L. Rev. 261 (2016), Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-11, Available at SSRN:

Kristin E. Hickman (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2915 (Phone)

Mark Thomson

Clare Locke LLP

United States

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