This summer, Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, turned its focus to public administration and the regulatory state. Mark Tushnet served as the Summer 2021 Dædalus issue’s guest editor, compiling essays from leading lights of administrative law like Cass Sunstein, Aaron Nielson, and Judge Neomi Rao. Professor Nielson’s piece, Deconstruction (Not Destruction), is the latest work in a line of scholarly literature that acknowledges the growing libertarian discomfort with perceived excesses of administrative governance (perhaps best embodied in the scholarship of Professor Philip Hamburger and the jurisprudence of Justice Neil Gorsuch) and proposes an alternative path forward for regulatory state skeptics. Some other such works include Professor Jeff Pojanowski’s 2020 Harvard Law Review article Neoclassical Administrative Law and Professors Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule’s new book Law and Leviathan.
Conceding at the beginning of the essay that “[t]he Supreme Court is not about to declare most of the federal government unconstitutional,” Professor Nielson is nevertheless sympathetic to the idea that today’s administrative-centric federal model presents serious issues. Professor Nielson’s thesis proceeds from the premise that, in the context of administrative law, commentators typically associate the word “deconstruction” with former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon’s assertion that the Trump administration sought to “deconstruct”—read: destroy—the administrative state. Professor Nielson takes a step back and reinterprets deconstruction in the “more technical sense of examining the administrative state to identify where theory and reality diverge and what can be done to fix it.” This reconsideration, Professor Nielson argues, is long overdue; to the extent that the federal government has constructed the administrative state over the last century or so, Professor Nielson proposes deconstruction as a way of rigorously interrogating the theories and assumptions underlying said efforts.
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