Bargaining in the Shadow of the Administrative State: The Public Interest in Rulemaking Settlement

44 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2004

See all articles by Jim Rossi

Jim Rossi

Vanderbilt University - Law School


This article addresses problems associated with settlement of appeals of legislative rules adopted by administrative agencies. Settlement is a common and important tool for avoiding litigation, but it also raises potential problems for administrative law. In particular, to the extent that an appellate litigation posture poses a principal/agent gap, an agency's incentives to settle may lead it to abandon its public interest goals, otherwise protected by statutory mandates as well as administrative procedures. The problem is most salient when an agency agrees to a substantive policy position in a settlement, committing the agency to later implement a policy course. To the extent an agency uses the same administrative procedure to implement a settlement that was used in adopting the regulation that is the subject of an appeal, the public interest may be preserved, but agencies have many ways of avoiding administrative procedure, or affording less procedure than was afforded in the initial adoption of a rule, in implementing settlement concessions.

This article discusses these issues in three parts. In part I, settlement is contrasted to negotiated regulation. Settlement, it is argued, raises a more significant principal/agent gap than other consensus approach to regulation, such as negotiated regulation. Part II addresses settlement against the backdrop of presidential transitions, during in which policy shifts are common. In the context of presidential transitions, settlement can be used by an old administration to commit a new President to a policy course, or can be used by a new administration to undo the policy decisions of an old President. While policy shifts are expected during presidential transitions, such shifts have serious consequences for administrative procedure if the new policy is implemented with less procedure than the old, abandoned policy. Part III recommends some ways of narrowing the principal/agent gap in rulemaking settlement. In particular, broad participation in settlement negotiations, as well in judicial proceedings approving settlements, is endorsed. In addition, hard look review of the merits of a settlement ex ante - at the time of the settlement's initial approval - is advocated as a way of promoting accountability.

Keywords: Settlements; administrative law; executive branch; judicial review

Suggested Citation

Rossi, Jim, Bargaining in the Shadow of the Administrative State: The Public Interest in Rulemaking Settlement. Available at SSRN:

Jim Rossi (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

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