Constitutional and legal challenges in the administrative state

Social Philosophy and Policy 38 (1):6-24 (2021)
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Following the Roosevelt administration’s implementation of New Deal programs in the 1930s, the federal courts began to interpret the Constitution in a way that accommodated the rise of the “administrative state,” and bureaucratic policymaking continues to persist as a central feature of American government today. This essay submits, however, that the three pillars supporting the administrative state—the congressional delegation of Article I powers to the executive branch, the combination of powers within individual administrative entities, and the insulation of administrators from political control—might be reconsidered by the courts in the near future. After showing that the constitutionality of the administrative state has come under recent judicial scrutiny, the essay turns to the administrative law principle of deference, and argues that a reassessment of the Chevron doctrine seems imminent. Finally, the essay examines federal courts’ heavy use of “hard look” review as a means of curtailing agency discretion during recent administrations, and concludes that this judicial practice stands in uneasy tension with republican principles.



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