Framers, Federalists, and the Reality of the Administrative State

The Framers of the Constitution wanted to avoid the problems of the governments they were all running away from in Europe, so while they wanted a centralized government for certain functions, like taxation, printing a common currency and conducting wars, they also wanted less power in that centralized government to prevent abuses and more power vested in the individual states who theoretically would better be able to determine their specific jurisdictional policies and priorities.

They also wanted to form a Union, and concessions were required to get all of the states on board.

Of course, terminology in law is often stood on its head and “Federalism” has become one of those terms.  Federalism, generically speaks to the relationships between the federal and state governments and the original “Federalists” wanted some form of centralized government as opposed to those who did not.  But the term does not mean more “Federalization” of government, it means less.

The philosophy of the Federalist Society today advocates for a very limited federal government, for a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, and for strong adherence to the separation of powers doctrine.  That doesn’t sound so bad.

Except, “strict construction” and “strong adherence” are just as susceptible to legislative and executive manipulation and to judicial activism as is applying the “spirit” of the Constitution.  And laws and social policy are shaped and changed just the same by “textualists” as they are by “living documentalists.”

It is all a fight over words, definitions, and semantics, and it’s all highly partisan and politicized regardless of any faction claiming otherwise.

And, the reason I bring this up is because how this all intertwines with what has become the modern “Administrative State,” and the massive amount of power being wielded by federal and state agencies that weren’t created in the Constitution.  This seems not to have been contemplated by the Founders and certainly seems opposed to what modern-day Federalists all talk about.  So how did this come to be?

And again, standing language on its head we have the “Non-Delegation” doctrine flowing from Article I and the Separation of Powers doctrine.  So we have three branches of government that are supposed to stay put in their respective arenas, provide checks and balances, and not run around giving their authority away to the other branches or interfering with the authority of the other branches.

For example, Congress can’t pass a law that would allow the executive branch to pass legislation – they can’t delegate that authority away.  But the Non-Delegation doctrine has been stood on its head and has become a means of defining the opposite.  It is used to define just what authority Congress can delegate away and who gets to control that authority.

And while Congress largely gives away authority to the executive branch, it will at times, muck around with the authority of the courts by tinkering with structure and jurisdiction, and by dangling the power of the purse over the heads of the judiciary when they get upset over an unconstitutional law being struck down.

Turns out, the Constitution, over time, probably to the chagrin of the Federalists, has been interpreted to allow Congress to create executive branch level agencies.  They create agencies with what we refer to as “Organic” or “Enabling” statutes and while the agencies’ powers are limited by these statutes, Congress gave agencies a little boost by allowing them to promulgate “rules.”  And, gee whiz, rules, if properly promulgated, have the same force and effect as statutes.  Lawmaking.

When you think about it, Congress expanded the executive branch big time.  They created much more of it than the Constitution originally did and much more of it than people probably like.  And, then they delegated away some of their legislative power to the executive branch (rule-making), but we call this quasi-legislative authority.  And what the Legislature (Big “L”) giveth, it can taketh away.  Although changes may be slow.

This is true at both the Federal and State level and we have Administrative Procedures Acts at both levels to give agencies some guidance and fill in the gaps in the agency-specific Organic statutes.  And these procedures allow agencies to intrude into the Judicial branch too!  They give agencies quasi-judicial powers to hear and decide contested cases, subject to judicial review of course.

And guess what, since the executive branch enforces the law and agencies are by nature regulatory bodies, we naturally have executive prosecutorial functions as well.  So agencies can make the law, prosecute under that law, and convict you (so to speak) under that law, all under one roof.

Agencies do a little more than licensing and maintaining files of annual reports.

Of course, the legislature generally did not delegate any authority to agencies to run around imprisoning people as punishment for any types of violations, so once the agency “convicts” you, the only penalties agencies can implement have to be found in the statutes themselves or you have to go to court for yet another judicial proceeding.  The Sixth Amendment is still alive, for the moment.

Federal and State legislatures can’t be experts in everything and there is so, so much to regulate that we have evolved into a “Administrative State” that has multiple layers of regulation that come from authority delegated out to the Executive Branch by Congress or by State Legislatures.  And the executive agencies’ regulations and decisions are given considerable deference by the Courts because the agencies are the “experts” in their respective fields.

So while many people focus on the acts of the legislature, which is a good thing to do, they should also pay close attention to what’s happening at the state and federal agencies, because there is much more law and social policy setting going on there that has a much more immediate impact on the populous.  You can look at current environmental policies for example.

There, I just kind of laid out the framework for how agencies evolved.  I’m not trying to address how different administrations have used the agencies to implement particular agendas or the merits of specific agendas.  At least not today 🙂

***

Photo:  My pocket Constitution.  These things are good little tools to have and it might be wise to read the Document once and a while.  The Constitution is actually pretty short.  And pretty amazingly well done.  The development of the Administrative State has shifted major powers to the executive branch, and that is partly why administrations do receive so much attention – because of the dramatic effect they can have on people’s day-to-day lives.

BTW: On a personal note.  Federal and state agencies have administrative law judges to preside over the quasi-judicial functions and trials at the agencies.  For part of my legal career I was a state Regulatory Law Judge.

About a year and a half ago, I applied to make the registry of qualified applicants for Federal Administrative Law Judges.  My understanding is they get 12,000 applicants when they open the registry, which is only opened about once every five years.  And they whittle that number down to 200 with an objective examination process.

They have been doing this since 1920 to ensure they get qualified applicants and to minimize the politicization of the process.

The competitive application process consisted of a series of examinations conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  I made the list, scoring in that top 1.67% of the applicants 🙂 !! This didn’t guarantee me a position, but I could have been selected when there was a vacancy, subject to another interview process.

I recently received an email from the OPM informing me that our president, by executive order, terminated the competitive application process and eliminated the list of qualified applicants, thus doing what no other president has done since the registry’s creation and injecting politics into the selection process.  Selection by one, with no standard for qualifications.

Kind of sad, because the checks and balances set up by the Framers, and even those originally put in place by the independent branches, have been slowly getting whittled away, bit by bit . . .

 

 

4 thoughts on “Framers, Federalists, and the Reality of the Administrative State”

  1. I’m reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography right now (it is quite a tome!!!) and I am learning so much! I think our founding fathers are rolling in their graves. I have always been a believer in SMALL government and ours has become quite a beast.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I bet that is a wonderful biography, and such a an amazing person. Yes, there was no way for the founders to imagine this county in its present form, nor was there a way to see the need for, or not for, certain regulations. But the spiral of expansion has really become, as you say, a “beast.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You have a deeper grasp of this than I do, hats off. From my angle three main things bother me & I do not know how divergent or not they are from the original constitution or a Federalist ideal. 1) the $$ influence in the form of lobbying and the recent Supreme Court defense of the notion that “corporations are like indivuduals”. 2) the visually obvious (if one looks at a map) bogus nature as to how congressional districts have been redrawn — there needs to be a logical formula governing this. 3) the procedrual workaround which permits the Senate to formulate 51% majorities (instead of 60%) seemingly at the majority’s whim.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You have a very good grasp of the problems with the system that are in addition to the ones I described. The problems you note make the situation for skewing power even worse, and those problems were not foreseen by the drafters of the Constitution. Especially the inflow of magnitudes of dollars.

      Liked by 2 people

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