The Private Life of Public Law

65 Pages Posted: 25 May 2005


This Article proposes a new conception of the administrative regulatory state that accounts for the vast networks of private agreements that shadow public regulations. The traditional account of the administrative state assigns a limited role to private actors: private firms and interest groups seek to influence regulations, and after the regulations are finalized, regulated firms face a comply-or-defy decision. In recent years, scholars have noted that private actors play an increasing role in the traditional government standard setting, implementation and enforcement functions. This Article demonstrates that the private role in each of these regulatory functions is far greater than others have identified. Furthermore, the Article argues that only when this private regulation is considered can the accountability and efficacy of the administrative state be judged. Using environmental regulation as an example, the Article examines a wide range of empirical data to demonstrate that public law requirements spawn a vast body of private agreements. These second-order agreements range from corporate acquisition and credit agreements between private firms to "good neighbor agreements" and other agreements between private firms and non-profit groups. Second-order agreements often concern not only environmental regulation, but labor, worker safety, health care and other regulatory areas. The Article shows that second-order agreements alter the types of parties that have interests in regulatory outcomes, the incentives they face, and the performance of the regulatory regime. The recognition of second-order agreements thus suggests a new agenda for empirical and theoretical work on the public regulatory measures that will generate the optimal blend of public and private regulation.

Keywords: Administrative Law, Environmental Law, Private Agreements, Private Governance, Private Regulation, Corporate Transactions

Suggested Citation

Vandenbergh, Michael P., The Private Life of Public Law. Available at SSRN:

Michael P. Vandenbergh (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics