The Public Administration of Justice

94 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2022 Last revised: 18 Sep 2022

See all articles by Nicholas Bednar

Nicholas Bednar

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: August 14, 2022


Adjudicatory agencies decide who receives social-welfare benefits, which inventions deserve patents, and which immigrants get to remain in the United States. Scholars have argued that agency adjudication lacks sufficient structural and procedural protections to ensure unbiased decision-making. Yet these critiques miss a key problem with agency adjudication: the lack of adjudicatory capacity. This Article argues that low-capacity agencies cannot satisfy the Due Process Clause’s demand for accurate decision-making. To produce accurate decisions, adjudicatory agencies need sufficient levels of capacity: (1) material resources, (2) expert adjudicators, and (3) support staff. When agencies lack these resources, their adjudicators rely on various coping mechanisms to manage their workloads. They shorten hearings, make assumptions about respondents’ claims based on appearance, or take other steps to reduce the cognitive burdens associated with a high workload. Yet these coping mechanisms introduce error into the decision-making process. Often, these errors are not random and, instead, bias against one party to the dispute.

This Article uses the Immigration Courts as a case study of this phenomenon. The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)—the agency charged with adjudicating the removal of noncitizens from the United States—suffers from severe understaffing and has amassed a backlog of over 1.7 million cases. Analyzing over 1.5 million removal proceedings and 32,000 personnel records, this Article uses causal and statistical methods to examine the effect that one element of adjudicatory capacity (i.e., law clerks) has on outcomes in the Immigration Courts. This analysis finds that providing an Immigration Judge with one law clerk decreases the likelihood of removal by 5.2 percentage points and increases the likelihood of an asylum grant by 4.4 percentage points. These effects are significant and exceed the effect sizes of other known contributors to bias, such as the IJ’s prior employment and appointing president.

Why do adjudicatory agencies, like EOIR, appear starved for resources? This Article argues that neither Congress nor the president have sufficient electoral incentives to invest in these agencies. As a result, adjudicatory agencies will continue to make systematic errors without intervention. However, the Due Process Clause demands accurate systems of agency adjudication. If Congress and the president will not uphold their duty to build capacity within these agencies, then courts must reform administrative-law doctrine to promote due process. By reimagining the law of agency adjudication from a public-administration perspective, courts can provide agencies with the flexibility they need to manage their workloads while protecting the due-process rights of the respondents who appear before agency adjudicators.

Keywords: Administrative Law, Immigration, Due Process, Bureaucratic Capacity

Suggested Citation

Bednar, Nicholas, The Public Administration of Justice (August 14, 2022). Cardozo Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas Bednar (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

United States

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