The Crisis of the New Order

Washington DC

Peggy Noonan recently suggested that “elites are often the last to see their system is under siege. ‘It couldn’t be, I’ve done so well.’” There is much to this idea, especially in a nation like America where many are, in fact, doing very well, and are often socially isolated from others who are not doing so well. Near zero interest rates have flooded the stock market with money, and that, among other things, has been good for the wealthy. Outside of that, however, things are tougher, and not only economically. Because Americans are increasingly isolated socially and economically, our governing class often has trouble seeing this reality.

Our system was supposed to be designed to ensure regular contact between elites and the common citizen.

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Congress Derailed: A Conversation with Christopher DeMuth

US Capitol Building, Washington DCChristopher DeMuth, the great conservative authority on regulatory policy, comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his recent work on the institutional decline of congress and how it can return to its place of constitutional prominence.

Beef with the Administrative State


On February 24, 1943, a grand jury in Boston returned a criminal indictment against Albert Yakus, the President of the Brighton Packing Company, for selling cuts of beef in violation of the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942 and price orders issued by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). Mr. Yakus, and many others like him, never had a chance to contest the legality of the rule under which he was convicted. They just went to jail. And the Supreme Court, in Yakus v. United States (1944), said: no problem. That’s just the administrative state and its judicial partners at work.

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Obama’s Wrecking Ball Administration

miley cyrus sulla palla demolitrice

This past Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its expected petition for certiorari in Texas v. United States, involving several states’ challenge to the administration’s “deferred action” program (“DAPA”). DAPA would grant deferred action—and, along with it, work permits and other benefits—to several million immigrants who are unlawfully present in the United States. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a preliminary injunction against DAPA on November 9; DoJ’s petition to review that preliminary ruling on an expedited schedule arrived within a fortnight. Why the haste, my child? Well, on an expedited schedule this case could still be heard and…

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Living under Executive Federalism

National mall sunset, Washington DC

Last week, I visited Boston College for a discussion of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Herewith an abbreviated version of my remarks. Comments etc. most welcome because the thoughts (some old, some new) are embryonic: I’m working on a more serious, grown-up presentation.

We are living in an age of Executive Federalism. That form of government has some deeply disturbing features, including several that should prompt a judicial response. So far, the Court has given no indication that it has a clue.

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When Law Is a Second-Hand Emotion

businessman and huge maze

As we noodle over administrative law’s foundations, we should also think carefully about its mechanics, and how these could better shape its compliance with the rule of law. Herewith an example: preliminary relief. (I’ll run together a bunch of doctrines that are technically different. But they all go to the timing of effective judicial relief.)

In an exceptionally well-written and economically literate op-ed, Mrs. Rhea Lana Riner describes her unpleasant interactions with the U.S. Department of Labor. She operates clothing consignment shops. Her business model, which she has franchised with great success, allows consignors to volunteer at sales events. The Labor Department says the volunteers are actually employees and must be paid minimum wage, plus overtime. So the Department went to town on Rhea Lana’s: it urged the volunteers to sue for back pay (none did) and then sent a demand letter: pay them or else. Mrs. Riner explains that

[t]he Labor Department’s years long and still-unofficial crusade has placed Rhea Lana’s into regulatory purgatory. The department is ordering me to conduct business to my detriment, and threatening hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties if I fail to comply. Yet a federal court has ruled that I lack any meaningful recourse until the agency files an official complaint, which it has not done.

And may never do, Mrs. Riner. Because then, they’d have to defend their position in court.

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The Administrative State and Its Law

This past weekend (October 23-24), George Mason Law School’s Law and Economics Center, in cooperation with the Council on Public Policy (a German think tank) and the Federalist Society, concucted a Transatlantic Law Forum  on “The Administrative State and its Law.” Excerpts: Scholars, pundits, politicians, and even Supreme Court Justices have come to lament that the administrative state—ill suited to the country’s constitutional culture in any event—appears increasingly beyond effective political and judicial control. Among the proposed remedies, perplexingly, is a quintessentially “European” product: bureaucratic legalism, either through more specific legislation or more aggressive judicial controls (or both). All the while,…

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The Wrath of Cons

D Brooks

David Brooks is in an angry and spiteful mood. Perhaps he’s even getting to be a bit unhinged, as history is putting his vision of American conservatism onto its rubbish heap.

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Administrative Law in Turmoil: New Coke Causes Indigestion

Sir Edward Coke

Harvard Law School’s dynamic AdLaw duo (Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule) has struck again. In The New Coke: On the Plural Aims of Administrative Law  the authors take aim at the insurgent fundamental assault on the legitimacy of the administrative state, under the banner of “the separation of powers.” The challenge is playing a growing role in separate [Supreme Court] opinions, and on occasion, it finds its way into majority opinions as well. Justice Clarence Thomas is the principal advocate, but he has been joined, on prominent occasions, by Justice Antonin Scalia and  sometimes by Justices Samuel Alito and Chief…

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Sooner or Later, A Sovereign People Asserts Its Authority

Declaration of Independence

Though American politics at the grassroots is polarized and divided, sharp commentators have written thoughtfully about the similarities between the parties as a practical matter. I would add that the similarities extend to their leaders.

While George W. Bush and Barack Obama could not be further apart ideologically, their attitudes toward governing suffer from the same flaw. Bush said he was “the Decider,” to which Obama rejoined: “I won.” Both ran roughshod over public opinion.

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