Abandoning Presidential Administration: A Civic Governance Agenda To Promote Democratic Equality and Guard Against Creeping Authoritarianism

30 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2020 Last revised: 30 Jan 2021

See all articles by Blake Emerson

Blake Emerson

UCLA School of Law

Jon D. Michaels

University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law

Date Written: November 23, 2020

Abstract

President-elect Joe Biden is likely to face an uncooperative, Republican controlled Senate. Democrats believe they have a good playbook for this situation: "presidential administration." Coined by now-Justice Elena Kagan, presidential administration endorses the use unilateral executive action to advance the president’s policy priorities. We argue that presidential administration is unlikely to be successful. More to the point, we fear it may prove dangerous, further legitimating practices that enable and embolden future authoritarians far more adroit than Donald Trump.

We propose that Biden instead practice (and preach) "civic administration," diffusing power away from the office of the president in ways that empower the civil service, state and local actors, and civil society as (1) partners in advancing social and economic policy and (2) potential counterweights if and when the White House pushes hyperpartisan or reckless initiatives. Biden should of course direct federal administrative agencies to take lawful action on the major issues of the day, from the pandemic, to climate change, to social inequality. But these and other actions should be taken in ways that recalibrate executive power, amplify and leverage the talents and resources of other competent democratic actors, and remain mindful of the dangers of presidential unilateralism.

Suggested Citation

Emerson, Blake and Michaels, Jon D., Abandoning Presidential Administration: A Civic Governance Agenda To Promote Democratic Equality and Guard Against Creeping Authoritarianism (November 23, 2020). 68 UCLA Law Review Discourse 418 (2021), UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 21-07, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3736360 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3736360

Blake Emerson (Contact Author)

UCLA School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Drive East
1242 Law Building
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

Jon D. Michaels

University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

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