President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression-- the New Deal-- ushered in a new era in American law. As happens when any profound social transformation is put in motion, individuals and groups within American society quickly saw themselves as either potential winners or losers in the emerging new world. Those who considered themselves powerful enough to take actions to support the transformation-- or stop it-- mobilized. In vivid prose, and with great clarity and intelligence, Daniel R. Ernst's “The Politics of Administrative Law: New York’s Anti-Bureaucracy Clause and the O’Brian-Wagner Campaign of 1938” describes and analyzes how this process unfolded in the Empire State during the late 1930’s. Ernst identifies “two institutions, the political party and the legal profession” as having played leading roles in shaping the “peculiar way which administrative agencies were incorporated into the American polity.” He complicates the traditional narrative about reactions to the creation of modern administrative law, a narrative that casts the raging battles as a straight forward “clash of interests or ideas”. In Ernst’s able hands we see instead that the “emergence of the administrative state” caused sharp divisions within political parties and the legal profession, cleaving both institutions into factions that were often led into alliances that, on the surface, appear anomalous. Thus, the New Dealer par excellence, Felix Frankfurter, worked assiduously (and successfully) with John Foster Dulles, a vociferous opponent of the New Deal, to defeat the Anti-Bureaucracy Clause, a measure designed the curb the power of administrative agencies. And John Lord O’Brian, who ran against the great New Dealer Robert Wagner, could vigorously support the very powerful Tennessee Valley Authority while railing against the National Labor Relations Board as the prime culprit in the erosion of “due process in the midst of a growing administrative state.” Although O’Brien lost, his critique of the NLRB resonated with voters, suggesting that political actors focused on a relatively technical question of administrative law could involve members of the public in important constitutional matters and that citizens would respond with their votes. Presenting a nuanced definition of “interests” and a thorough description of the “ideas” in play, Ernst helps us to see how these early battles resulted in the “judicialization of administrative procedure” that we know today. Extensively and creatively researched, “The Politics of Administrative Law” tells us much that we need to know about a fascinating moment in American history.
Dan had this to say about the article in an LHB post:
I wrote the paper for a conference in honor of Stanley N. Katz (my dissertation adviser) held at Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in February 2007. Because of the occasion, I thought of the first thing of his I ever read, “The Politics of Law in Colonial America: Controversies over Chancery Courts and Equity Law in the Eighteenth Century,” Perspectives in American History 5 (1971): 485–518, which John Langbein put in my hands as I was trying to decide where to do graduate work in history after completing my J.D. I recall being impressed by the article, as well as by Katz's Newcastle’s New York (1968), and off I went.
In the years since, I never forgot the essay....
Dan continues here.