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07/16/2022

Julian Davis Mortenson & Nicholas Bagley Reply to Critics on Nondelegation
Michael Ramsey

Julian Davis Mortenson (University of Michigan Law School) & Nicholas Bagley (University of Michigan Law School) have posted Delegation at the Founding: A Response to the Critics (Columbia Law Review, forthcoming) (37 pages) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This essay responds to the wide range of commentary on "Delegation at the Founding," which is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=3512154. The critics’ arguments deserve thoughtful consideration and a careful response. We’re happy to supply both.

As a matter of eighteenth-century legal and political theory, “rulemaking” could not be neatly described as either legislative or executive based on analysis of its scope, subject, or substantive effect. To the contrary: depending on the relationships you chose to emphasize, a given act could properly be classified as both legislative (from the perspective of the immediate actor) and also executive (from the perspective of the authorizing principal) at the same time. As a formalist matter, the separation of powers objection is thus evanescent—subject to trivial reframing. In making rules pursuant to congressional instruction, administrative agencies are simultaneously exercising both legislative power (by promulgating authoritative legal commands) and also executive power (by implementing Congress’s authoritative instructions). This is *not* a functionalist argument; it is an insistent demand to take formalism seriously: the same government action was understood as both executive and legislative—and always was.

As a matter of eighteenth-century governance practice, late eighteenth-century Anglo-American law was awash in legislative delegations. Nor did the adoption of the Constitution mark a change in that practice: its text does not specify new limits on delegation; no one in the ratification process suggested it might be read to do so; and vesting clauses in state constitutions with identically tripartite structures (and explicit separation-of-powers clauses) were understood to permit broad delegations. Early practice, in fact, suggests the Founders harbored no such belief. The First Congress passed dozens of laws delegating wide discretion to the President, to cabinet secretaries, to federal judges, to territorial governors, and to tax officials. No meaningful nondelegation objection was raised to any of these laws—and this at a time when legislators were inventing dubious constitutional arguments at the drop of a hat. The originalist argument for nondelegation doctrine fails on its own terms.