Administrative Dissents

77 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2017 Last revised: 17 Oct 2017

See all articles by Sharon Jacobs

Sharon Jacobs

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: February 24, 2017


Commissioners, like judges, dissent. They do so at length, with vigor, and with persistence. And yet, while separate judicial decisions are the subject of a rich literature, their administrative counterparts have long languished in obscurity. A closer look is warranted, however, because studying administrative dissent can enhance our understanding of internal agency operations as well as the relationship between agencies and other actors. This article presents the results of an original review of separate statements at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission dating back four decades. It uses these findings to dispel two stubborn myths about administrative commissions: the myth of consensus among commissioners and the myth of homogeneity across commissions. The article also tells a larger institutional story about the utility of separate statements in constraining bureaucratic discretion. Commissioner dissents and concurrences ameliorate the principal-agent problem inherent in delegations of legislative authority by providing both Congress and the President with better information about the preferences and behavior of individual commissioners. Dissents and concurrences can also improve decision making quality within the agency, thereby minimizing the risk of arbitrariness. An emerging judicial doctrine of "deliberation-forcing" as a component of arbitrary and capricious review can enhance this effect and the article proposes that similar "deliberation-forcing" inform judicial review of agency interpretations of law under Chevron. The article concludes by proposing a framework in which to assess the costs and benefits of separate statements and suggesting avenues for further research.

Suggested Citation

Jacobs, Sharon, Administrative Dissents (February 24, 2017). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 59, 2017, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-7, Available at SSRN: or

Sharon Jacobs (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Wolf Law Building
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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