Radical Administrative Law

64 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2023 Last revised: 25 Mar 2024

Date Written: August 22, 2023


The administrative state is under attack as judges and scholars increasingly question why agencies should have such large powers to coerce citizens without adequate democratic accountability. Rather than refuting these critics, this Article accepts that they have a point to scrutinize the massive powers that agencies hold over citizens. However, their solution to augment the powers of Congress or the President over agencies to instill indirect democratic accountability is one step too quick. We should first examine whether direct democratic accountability of agencies by the citizenry is possible.

This Article excavates 19th-century European intellectual history following the rise of the modern administrative state as inspiration to illuminate how agencies can improve their democratic credentials to justify agency powers over the citizenry. While such thinkers might seem far afield of current public law discussions, this unlikely group of 19th-century legal and political theorists has already extensively theorized contemporary concerns about agencies coercing citizens without proper democratic accountability. These theorists, whom I call administrative “radicals,” presented a much more radical conception of the role of agencies in governance than contemporary critics. Instead of stripping agencies of their powers, the radicals had a much bolder proposal – democratizing the administrative state so the citizenry could instill direct democratic accountability over the agencies that coerced them. Importantly, the radicals influenced the first generation of American administrative law scholars, who looked to these radicals to figure out how to democratize the nascent American administrative state.

The radical tradition inspires us to transform the relationship between agencies and the citizenry and rethink how agencies fit within the separation of powers and administrative law. Instead of viewing agencies as stuck in the middle of a perpetual tug-of-war between Congress and the President, the radical tradition encourages us to focus on agencies themselves by shaping the relationships between agencies and the citizenry to instill direct democratic accountability. Under this radical separation-of-powers framework, the people serve as the common source of accountability for Congress, the President, and the administrative state. In doing so, embracing radical administrative law mitigates the concerns that give rise to reviving the nondelegation doctrine, eliminating removal protections, and expanding the major questions doctrine. The radical tradition also reinvigorates discussions of political equality in administrative law and suggests a reduced judicial role to police the substance of agency decisions.

Keywords: Administrative law, constitutional law, separation of powers, legal history, legal theory, democracy, accountability, political equality, judicial power, lobbying, nondelegation, major questions doctrine,

Suggested Citation

Havasy, Christopher, Radical Administrative Law (August 22, 2023). Vanderbilt Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4547106 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4547106

Christopher Havasy (Contact Author)

Penn State Dickinson Law ( email )

150 S College St
Carlisle, PA 17013
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.chrishavasy.com

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