The standard narrative used to justify the existence of the administrative state and thus legitimate its powers is that America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries entered into a realm of industrialization, corporate power and concentration, density and urbanization, among other causes, that entailed the need for expert rule in executive agencies. Necessity of government action required courts and rule-making agencies that could adjust the social order to rapidly arising needs not anticipated in the 'horse and buggy' Constitution. However, what if there really is nothing new under the sun about administrative power? Instead, what if its call…
As most U.S. history textbooks teach, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act not long after a disgruntled office-seeker shot and killed President Garfield in 1881. The goal was to create a competent and politically neutral civil service. I wonder if, over a century and a quarter after America went down that road, the old problem is returning in a new guise, as we now have a highly partisan civil service, albeit one that has civil service protections.
It’s been great fun blogging at LibertyLaw this month, and I thank Richard Reinsch for the opportunity to opine. As I conclude my tenure as guest blogger, I want to respond to some of Greg Weiner’s very interesting and provocative suggestions about Congress and the administrative state. He is right to focus on Congress as the centerpiece of any successful reform movement, but I have a few tentative hesitations about his suggestions.
2014 has been a great year for reading about the tense relationship between the modern administrative state and American constitutionalism. F.H. Buckley’s The Once and Future King attempts to grapple with the accretion of power towards the executive in modern democracies, while Philip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful? explores the challenges that the administrative state poses for the rule of law.
A third contribution by Georgetown Law professor Daniel Ernst, titled Tocqueville’s Nightmare, argues that the tension between bureaucracy and freedom was actually resolved in American history by reformers between 1900-1940. Thus (like Jerry Mashaw’s 2012 book Creating the Administrative Constitution) it seeks to defend the administrative state against accusations that it cannot coexist peacefully without our constitutional system.
As she hawks her new book, Mrs. Clinton is saying provocative things. Her assertion that “American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world” has raised eyebrows across the country.
In a world in which violent coup d-etat are still relatively common in many parts of the world, that’s a striking claim. American politicians are toppled by elections, not by violence. The parties hurl invective at each other, not ordinance. As John Adams reflected to Thomas Jefferson in 1823, “I should like to see an election for a President in the British empire or in France or in Spain or in Prussia or Russia by way of experiment. We go on pretty well—for we use no other artillery than goose quills: & our ink is not so deleterious as language & grape.”*
In a decision that has been criticized on both the right and left, the FDA announced a ban last week (via executive decree) on the use of wooden boards for aging cheese. It has since relented after receiving pushback from cheese interests, including the American Cheese Society. While hardly unprecedented, this example of bureaucratic rule helps illustrate a few basic, fundamental problems with the administrative process.
Like many others at the moment, I am making my way through Philip Hamburger’s Is Administrative Law Unlawful? One of the most shocking chapters is his chapter on America’s “Return to Extralegal Adjudication,” a problem that constitutional law had originally aimed to constrain, but which has re-emerged in the context of the modern administrative state.
I knew that there were problems with administrative adjudication – I just didn’t grasp how pervasive the problems were until Hamburger laid them out so systematically.
I’m thrilled to be guest blogging this month, and looking forward to discussing the administrative state, political parties, and other topics. For my first post I want to bring up an interesting question that emerged in a review by Ted McAllister (and in the comments) from last week, regarding the origins of the modern regulatory/administrative state. Scholars often trace the birth of the administrative state to the 1880s, especially in two critical episodes: the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 which created the modern civil service, and (more importantly) the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, which created the Interstate Commerce Commission. This history of the administrative state makes the late nineteenth century the critical turning point in American history.
This is a plausible, but ultimately I think a mistaken history. The regulatory initiatives of the late 19th Century were much more consistent with an earlier view of American constitutionalism that they appear at first glance. They were not necessarily harbingers of the modern administrative state. Tracing the birth of the administrative state to the 1880s is somewhat misleading.
Confirming ordinary experience, the polls leave no doubt that the majority of Americans now regard the U.S. government as more a threat than a protector, acting beyond law or popular control. How government in America became “them” rather than “us,” what government’s loss of legitimacy means for this country, and whether lost confidence and legitimacy may be reclaimed any more than virginity, are questions we must ponder.
This next Liberty Law Talk is with Frank Buckley about his new book The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America. Buckley's book is a profound challenge to the script of presidential power that many conservatives have read from over the past decades. Our conversation focuses on Buckley's argument that the American constitutional system has become dangerously unmoored from the congressional system of government that its ratifiers intended for it. This conversation explores a close reading of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to understand Buckley's claim of how indisposed the members of that convention were to an…