|President Lyndon Johnson, December 11, 1963 (LC)|
The last six weeks of my survey course on American Legal History treat the emergence of the New Deal political regime and its "consolidation" in the late 1940s and 1950s. The last class–entitled, in an homage to a classic article by Richard L. McCormick,“The Discovery that Business Corrupts Administration”–is devoted to how the high hopes for New Deal agencies had in the 1950s run to ground in delay, corruption and incompetence, terrain recently surveyed by Joanna L. Grisinger in The Unwieldy American State.
After reviewing the symptoms and various diagnoses of administrative malaise in the 1950s and early 1960s, I have the class consider various remedies. Although after the rise of the Consumer Movement the judiciary would become a powerful instrument of reform, they overwhelmingly deferred to the commissions. I tell the students about Bernard Schwartz's tragicomic experience as Chief Counsel of House Legislative Oversight subcommittee, including his firing after he started investigating his congressional masters, to suggest the limits of the reform impulse within Congress circa the late 1950s. What about the executive? At first, JFK's appointments, such as Manuel Cohen, Philip Elman, Newton Minow, and Joseph Swidler, and his commissioning of James Landis to report on the regulatory commissions suggested that rule by the Best Men might be back. His successor, however, viewed regulatory commissions less as Landis's Fourth Branch of Government than as a political resource to be bent to his will.
|Oren Harris (credit)|
|Abe Fortas (LC)|