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06/26/2020

Jennifer Mascott: Early Customs Laws and Delegation
Michael Ramsey

Jennifer Mascott (George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty) has posted Early Customs Laws and Delegation (George Washington Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 6, 2020) (64 pages) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This past Term the Supreme Court reexamined the nondelegation doctrine, with several justices concluding that in the proper case, the Court should consider significantly strengthening the doctrine in its contemporary form. Adherents to the doctrine question whether Congress has developed a practice of improperly delegating to administrative agencies the legislative power that Congress alone must exercise under the Vesting Clause of Article I of the Constitution. Many scholars have debated the extent of the historical or textual basis for the doctrine. Instead, this Article examines interactions between executive and legislative actors during the first congressional debates on the Impost, Tonnage, Registration, and Collection of Duties Acts. In addition to revealing Congress’s central role early on, this story shows the relevance of state and congressional district interests to the legislative agreements concerning customs laws. The rich depth of these varied interests suggests that nondelegation limitations might not be inherent in the Vesting Clause alone, but may be innate to the federal government’s tripartite and federalist structural design itself.

The Constitution carefully provided significant protection for state interests through diverse representation schemes in the House and the Senate. Beyond the textual limitation of exclusive vesting of the legislative power in Congress, separation of powers principles help ensure all people’s interests are represented in a way that would not be possible via a singular, centralized administrative entity. The acts of such administrative entities are accountable, if at all, to just one centralized elected official, not to multiple elected decisionmakers representing states and regional interests. Consequently, enforcement of relatively strict nondelegation principles may be critical to preserving the structural constitutional principle that the federal government must reflect the interests of both individual members of the electorate as well as the states and regional electoral districts.