The current account of executive power is incomplete. Before joining the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan noted that the President seeks control over the executive branch. Kagan referred to this paradigm as “presidential administration.” Kagan’s work and the significant body of literature it spawned have also acknowledged, however, that independent agencies are generally outside the ambit of presidential power. Nonetheless, this scholarship has not looked beyond the White House to consider other forms of overarching executive influence on the administrative state.
This Article reveals that not only the President but also executive agencies seek and wield control over independent agencies for reasons that are distinct from the President’s interests. This results in what this Article calls “executive administration.” More specifically, executive agencies exert influence via litigation brought on their behalf by the Department of Justice against independent agencies before Article III courts. This contention is supported by an original dataset of approximately 120 cases spanning the mid-twentieth century through mid-2018.
Litigation has consistently furthered the interests of executive agencies, including their desire to limit independent agencies’ power to regulate them and in overlapping areas of policymaking authority. For instance, courts have reversed independent agency decisions binding executive agencies and have constrained independent agencies’ authority to implement their enabling statutes. This may be for the better, but may also be for the worse. On the one hand, litigation offers a meaningful vehicle for beneficial, ex post executive oversight of independent agencies, particularly in light of the dearth of presidential mechanisms of quality control. On the other hand, a recent Supreme Court decision suggests litigation may be used to walk back Chevron deference to independent agencies—to the detriment of their ability to enforce the law with nonpartisanship and expertise.
Finally, recent cases brought by the Trump Administration have sought to dislocate independent agencies in pursuit of a more unitary executive branch. These cases suggest that litigation could be a tool of presidential administration as well. Theoretically, this litigation exemplifies a constitutional prophylactic: In order to intensify control over the administrative state, the executive branch must cede power to the judiciary. However, courts will continue to serve as barriers to presidential abuse only as long as they remain nonpartisan.
* Associate Professor, Arizona State University (ASU), Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Many thanks to Kent Barnett, Neal Devins, Zack Gubler, Michael Herz, Sharon Jacobs, Rhett Larson, Stephen Lee, Justin Levitt, Kaipo Matsumura, Alan Morrison, Victoria Nourse, Anne Joseph O’Connell, Trevor Reed, Victoria Sahani, Erin Scharff, Chris Schroeder, Mark Seidenfeld, Josh Sellers, Neil Siegel, Jarrod Shobe, Kevin Stack, Peter Strauss, Ilan Wurman, David Zaring, and Adam Zimmerman; commentators from the Association of American Law Schools New Voices in Administrative Law program, the Administrative Law New Scholarship Roundtable, the symposium on Regulatory Change and the Trump Administration held at Yale Law School, and the Culp Colloquium hosted by Duke University School of Law; and faculty colloquia at Loyola Law School, Boston College Law School, and ASU College of Law. Thanks are owed as well to Elise Adams, Rees Atkins, and Gregory Fay, and to Tara Mospan of the Ross-Blakley Law Library, for their tremendous research assistance. All errors are my own.