In Presidential Administration, then-Professor Elena Kagan re-envisioned administrative law through the lens of the President’s personal influence on the regulatory state. Rather than grounding Chevron deference on an agency’s “special expertise and experience,” Kagan would “take unapologetic account of the extent of presidential involvement in administrative decisions in determining the level of deference to which they are entitled.” The stronger the President’s fingerprints on the executive action, a practice she praises as “presidential administration,” the more courts should defer.
There is a flipside to Kagan’s theory: four species of high-level influence, which I describe as “presidential maladministration,” are increasingly problematic. First, where an incoming administration reverses a previous administration’s interpretation of statute, simply because a new sheriff is in town, courts should verify if the statute bears such a fluid construction. Second, where an administration discovers a heretofore unknown power in a statute that allows it to confer substantive rights, courts should raise a red flag, especially when the authority exercised was one Congress withheld. Third, where an administration declines to enforce a statute that Congress refuses to repeal, under the guise of prosecutorial discretion, courts should view the action with skepticism. Fourth, where evidence exists that the White House attempted to exert its influence and intrude into the rule-making process of independent agencies, courts should revisit the doctrine concerning altered regulatory positions.
As the Federal Register has recently turned the page from Obama to Trump, this Article provides a timely analysis of how courts react to unpresidented approaches to maladministration.
The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.