Here’s a quick update on two pending Supreme Court items, both of huge interest to a vast range of commercial actors and actually the country. Non-event: still no decision in Comptroller v. Wynne, a “dormant” Commerce Clause case over the double taxation of income earned in interstate commerce. Next to Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the Jerusalem passport case, Wynne is the only case still open from the Court’s November arguments. As I wailed here and here, the Court’s highly unusual cert grant in Wynne—to a state court, in a case involving no lower court splits and on a ruling that affirmed the…
In an earlier post I commented on President Obama’s success in bulldozing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into regulating the Internet as a public utility. GOP legislators have since vowed to look into the matter; among other things they’ve asked the FCC to turn over all correspondence with the White House, to learn whether there has been any “illegal coordination” between the President’s flacks and the “independent” FCC. This strikes me as a rather pathetic response and an unhelpful distraction.
This past Monday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in (yet) another important AdLaw case, Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association. At issue: the D.C. Circuit’s “Paralyzed Veterans doctrine,” a set of cases holding that under some circumstances, agencies seeking to change their interpretation of a regulation or law must go through notice-and-comment rulemaking even when the original interpretation was adopted informally.
Last week, the Supreme Court granted cert in another important administrative law case—yet again involving EPA; yet again arising over the agency’s riff on the Clean Air Act; yet again a Chevron case. After EME Homer City and Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) (yet again a petitioner in this case), it’s the third such case to be heard, decided, or granted in a single calendar year. Maybe it’s just the ebb and flow of cases, but a casual survey of the D.C. Circuit’s environmental docket and the EPA’s ambitious plans to rid the galaxy of any chemical whatever strongly suggests that cases of this sort will continue to loom large.
A recent Supreme Court order portends interesting limits on the Securities Exchange Commission and on Chevron deference. Earlier this fall, I observed how the SEC evades jury rights and other rights of criminal defendants by proceeding against them in SEC hearings. Now, as noted by Ed Mannino, the Supreme Court is beginning to focus on a related danger.
Administrative Law—both in its New Deal and its modern, post-Chevron version—rests on legislative supremacy. In other words, it assumes that there’s a halfway functional Congress. What if there isn’t? What happens when Congress fails to update ancient statutes and, when legislating at all, enacts convoluted statutes (such as Dodd-Frank or the ACA) that no one can make sense of? What if everyone starts taking it for granted that Congress is hopeless? Ashley Parrish and I explore the question in a forthcoming article in the GMU Law Review. (Mr. Parrish, a dear friend and frequent co-conspirator, is a partner at King &…
We will soon know if the U.S. Senate changes hands, but I’m not one of those waiting with bated breath. I had lunch with a prominent conservative columnist a while back. “It’ll be different in November,” he exulted. “We’ll take the Senate!” “And then what will happen?” I asked. “We’ll pass legislation and send it up to Obama,” he answered. “And then what will happen?” I asked.
My friend thought that the most arrogant and narcissistic President the country has ever seen would blanche before Mitch McConnell. Count me a skeptic. We have gridlock this year, and we’ll very likely have gridlock in 2015, whatever happens in November.
Oh, I know there’s the Senate’s advise and consent role, when it comes to judicial appointments. Conservatives like to pretend that that’s important. All it means is that, with divided government, we won’t see Justice Eric Holder. So we’ll see Justice Elena Kagan. Tell me what’s the difference.
I’m grateful for the responses to my earlier Office for Civil Rights post, especially the comments that illustrate the corrupting consequences of “government by guidance.” As I suggested, and as many readers emphasized, the subject raises much larger questions about lawful government. Herewith a few more comments on how difficult this is—and a hopefully cheerful suggestion as to what could be done.
The trajectory from lofty, well-meant enactments (the Civil Rights Act, Title IX) to the scape-goating of students, teachers, and bandleaders is a straight line: statute to regulation to “interpretation/guidance” to “voluntary” compliance. But the incentives are lousy each step of the way. Congress would rather delegate than legislate; the agency would rather bully than write a rule; and the regulated entities would rather throw people overboard and kowtow or pay money than fight back. This happens everywhere; OCR is just an example. And, no: this isn’t about the Obama administration or particularly wayward bureaucrats. If it were, things could be fixed at the ballot box, or by courts. The grim, incentive-driven march of government by guidance isn’t.
There’s a terrific new blog out there, under the umbrella of the Yale Journal on Regulation. Cleverly entitled Notice & Comment, it’s the brainchild of Chris “Just-Because-We-Teach-AdLaw-Doesn’t-Mean-We’re-Boring” Walker. The blog follows the AdLaw literature, so we don’t have to. It also has posts on ongoing events, and they’re darn good. Among the recent entries: a fun piece by Peter Conti-Brown, an occasional contributor to this site, on how POTUS can fire the head of the Secret Service (“head” is a metaphor here) but not the President of the New York Reserve—and how stupid is that? And Jeff Pojanowski has an…
Michael Greve has a great post on the German origins of progressive Administration Law in the United States. Michael notes that the German tradition was not all bad – instead there was a liberal and legal tradition of judicial review in Germany, which did not employ deference. The progressives borrowed most of the bad stuff.
This German idea of the Rechtsstaat – of a state or of government bound by the rule of law – was one that was celebrated by Austrian scholar Friedrich Hayek. Hayek, while known as a Nobel Prize winning economist and a political theorist, also studied law in Vienna where he imbibed the ideal of the Rechtsstaat.
In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek devotes a portion of the book to the development of a law of liberty. Hayek’s approach is to discuss various countries’ distinctive contributions, from England to the United States to Germany. Hayek argues that the movement for liberty reached Germany last and therefore its contribution was in many ways the most developed and the one that best fits the modern world.