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Harvard Law Review


In recent years, the failure of administrative agencies to implement congressional programs faithfully and effectively has called into question the wisdom of the central institutional innovations of the New Deal: the expansion of the regulatory state and the shift in power from the states to the federal government. In this Article, Professor Sunstein challenges the New Deal more fundamentally, examining not only the institutional changes themselves, but also the shift in constitutional commitments that underlay those reforms. Professor Sunstein identifies three aspects of New Deal constitutionalism: the rejection of the original constitutional commitment to checks and balances in favor of independent and insulated regulatory administration, the recognition of substantive entitlements beyond those protected at common law, and the abandonment of principles of federalism that vested regulatory authority in both the federal government and the states. Professor Sunstein argues that many of the present failures of regulatory administration - particularly the problems of agency capture and factionalism - can be traced to the New Deal's failure to incorporate the original constitutional commitment to checks and balances into regulatory administration. The remedy, he suggests, is to reinvigorate the commitment to checks and balances through a system of coordinated review of agency action that includes a strong supervisory role for each of the three branches of government - the executive, the judiciary, and Congress. In addition, Professor Sunstein maintains that the protection of new entitlements during the New Deal was a natural and justified outgrowth of the recognition by New Deal reformers that the common law itself favors some social interests over others. He suggests that this substantive aspect of the New Deal should be incorporated into modern public law, in which common law categories persist despite the insights of New Deal reformers. Finally, Professor Sunstein argues that the third aspect of New Deal constitutionalism - the emphasis on national rather than local control of regulatory issues - has been carried too far, depriving citizens of the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the debate over the terms of their social life.

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