A Rebuttal to 'Delegation at the Founding'

65 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 2 Sep 2020

Date Written: March 25, 2020


In their forthcoming article “Delegation at the Founding,” Julian Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley take aim at modern originalists who argue on historical grounds for reviving the long-dormant Nondelegation Doctrine—the constitutional principle that Congress may not delegate authority so broad as to be “legislative” in nature. Mortenson and Bagley reject such originalist arguments, asserting that, in fact, the Nondelegation Doctrine has no basis in the Constitution as originally understood. On the contrary, the two authors claim, “the founders thought that legislative power … could be delegated by whomever … h[eld] it, so long as it wasn’t permanently alienated”; and that any “rulemaking pursuant to statutory authorization,” no matter how broad the authorization, “was an exercise of executive Power.”

As one of the less illustrious targets of Mortenson and Bagley’s critique, I beg to differ on both points. In a prior article, Nondelegation, 12 NYU J.L. & Liberty 718 (2019), I argued that, as a matter of original meaning, the Nondelegation Doctrine has a firm constitutional foundation; congressional “grants of rulemaking power … very often constitute delegations of legislative authority, and such delegations violate the Constitution.” Despite one hundred ten pages of their best efforts, Mortenson and Bagley fail to call these conclusions into doubt; if anything, their recent paper should leave readers even more convinced of the Nondelegation Doctrine’s constitutional bona fides. Here’s why.

Keywords: Non-delegation, Constitution, Originalism, Interpretation, Regulation, History, Framing, Response, Mortenson, Bagley, Founding, Delegation, Separation of Powers

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Aaron, A Rebuttal to 'Delegation at the Founding' (March 25, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3561062 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3561062

Aaron Gordon (Contact Author)

Yale University, Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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