Constraining Bureaucracy Beyond Judicial Review
Dædalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Vol. 150(3), pp. 155-171, 2021
17 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020 Last revised: 16 Aug 2023
Date Written: October 16, 2020
As part of this special issue of Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, that assesses the twenty-first-century administrative state in the United States, this Essay argues that the modern regulatory state—and the field of administrative law that studies it—are in need of “deconstruction.” To be sure, this Essay does not advocate for a “deconstruction of the administrative state” that President Trump’s chief strategist likely envisioned when he grabbed headlines with that declaration shortly after the election. The administrative state plays a vital role in modern governance—a role that should be strengthened and improved, not dismantled entirely. Nor does this Essay embrace the field’s and the reformers’ fixation on courts as the core bulwark against agency overreach. That is because so much of bureaucracy is beyond judicial review. Federal agencies regulate us in many meaningful, and sometimes frightening, ways that either evade judicial review entirely or are at least substantially insulated from the courts’ purview.
This Essay makes two contributions to this deconstruction debate. First, the concept of bureaucracy beyond judicial review is undertheorized. It should not be limited to the conventional account of agency actions that statute or judicial doctrine precludes from judicial review. Instead, the concept should also encompass agency actions technically subject to judicial review yet effectively insulated from such review. It should also include the agency policymaking space created by judicial deference doctrines as well as the judicially unreviewable role that federal agencies play in drafting the laws that delegate agencies power in the first place. Second, appreciating this phenomenon of bureaucracy beyond judicial review should encourage us to rethink theories and doctrines in administrative law. If judicial review provides no safeguard against potential abuses of power in most regulatory activities, we must turn to other mechanisms to protect liberty and the rule of law. All three branches of the federal government must play their roles. As should civil society and the agencies themselves.
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