Reclaiming Notice and Comment: Part II

This post is part of our symposium on democratizing administrative law. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Nancy Chi Cantalupo, Matthew Cortland & Karen Tani –

In an earlier post in this series, two of us (Cortland and Tani) described how the notice-and-comment process has entered the arsenal of a range of groups and organizers, many seeking to challenge the policies of the current administration. We made the case by highlighting grassroots efforts to explain to the public what notice-and-comment is and how to participate in it. The effects of these efforts seem clear. Note the more than 1,800 comments on Kentucky’s 2016 request for a Medicaid Section 1115 waiver (seeking to impose a work requirement, among other changes). Or consider the 266,000+ comments to the Department of Homeland Security after the agency proposed a rule that would make an immigrant’s use (or likely use) of public benefits grounds for inadmissibility.

Here we discuss a type of organizing that has followed in the wake of mass commenting efforts, focused on analyzing the content of comments and ensuring their due consideration. Our central example comes from the Department of Education’s recent notice of a proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the meaning of Title IX for complaints of sexual harassment (an umbrella legal term that includes sexual violence). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the activism around the ED’s interpretation of Title IX in the Obama years, the agency recorded over 124,000 comments—and spurred the creative cataloging initiative we spotlight here. By analyzing comments themselves, participants in this initiative seek to support public engagement with administrative law and vindicate the democratic values at the heart of notice-and-comment mandates.

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Critics of the Administrative State Have a History Problem

This post is part of our symposium on democratizing administrative law. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Sophia Z. Lee –

For the first time in nearly a century, the conservative scholars, judges, lawyers, and advocacy groups challenging the constitutional foundations of the modern administrative state have reached a critical mass. At stake is the structure of American government and its ability to address issues at the heart of political economy, from countering corporate power to protecting workers and the environment.

But these critics may be inviting in a Trojan Horse. Because most of them locate the Constitution’s meaning at the time of its ratification (an approach known as originalism), history plays a central role in their challenges. These days, they blame the administrative state’s fall from constitutional grace on the Progressive Era. However, as I argue in a forthcoming article, returning to 19th century administrative law would smuggle in an unwelcome consequence: largely eliminating judicial review of the constitutionality of agency action. As a result, they may have to choose between their originalist attack on the modern administrative state and preserving a type of court review they value highly.

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Reclaiming Notice and Comment

This post is part of our symposium on democratizing administrative law. You can find all the posts in the series here

Matthew Cortland and Karen Tani –

In June 2016, five months before the election of President Donald Trump, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a post for the Regulatory Review on “corporate capture of the regulatory process.” It highlighted myriad opportunities in the rulemaking process “for powerful industry groups to tilt the scales in their favor.” The “notice and comment” process offered a key example: “industry insiders and their highly-paid allies” produce “an avalanche of detailed, well-funded, well-credentialed comments,” Warren observed, which administrators must consider if the eventual rulemaking is to survive judicial review.

Fast forward three years, into an administration that has besieged the administrative state—questioning its legitimacy, demoralizing its personnel, slowing the pace of regulation, and  withdrawing from important regulatory realms. In this anti-regulatory moment, notice-and-comment might seem a quaint artifact from a bygone age: with such meager regulatory output, especially aimed at industry, what is left to comment on?  Instead, however, notice-and-comment has become a key tool of opponents of the current administration—a vehicle for mobilizing “grassroots experts” and enabling marginalized voices to speak against dehumanizing agency action.

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Democratizing Administrative Governance: How the Civil Rights Movement Shaped Medicare’s Implementation

This post is part of our symposium on democratizing administrative law. You can find all the posts in the series here.

David Barton Smith –

In January 1966, the Johnson administration faced a regulatory battle between a risk-averse federal executive branch and the demands of a grassroots social movement.  Starting on July 1, 1966, federal Medicare funds would begin to account for more than 25% of the revenue of the nation’s 6,000 private acute care hospitals. Medicare would serve as the first real test of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned the allocation of any federal funds to entities that discriminated on the basis of race. The success of Title VI would depend on forging a strong relationship between officials administering the program and the civil rights movement. The change that ultimately resulted from this collaboration offers a concrete example of how democratic movements can leverage grassroots pressure, public enforcement and government spending power to transform sectors of the economy.

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