Notice & Comment

Ad Law Reading Room: “The Myth of the Federal Private Nondelegation Doctrine,” by Alexander Volokh

Today’s Ad Law Reading Room is “The Myth of the Federal Private Nondelegation Doctrine,” by Alexander Volokh, which was recently published by the Notre Dame Law Review and posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Judges and scholars have often claimed that delegations of governmental power to private parties are constitutionally prohibited. However, such a “private nondelegation doctrine” is elusive, if not nonexistent.

To understand why, first we need to realize that there are actually several distinct nondelegation doctrines. I develop a taxonomy that makes sense of these various doctrines by focusing on the different reasons why a delegation might be problematic. A nondelegation doctrine might be “giver-based” (can Congress delegate this power?), “recipient-based” (can the recipient exercise this power?), or “application-based” (will the application of this power be unjust?).

Once we distinguish these doctrines, it becomes apparent that none of them rules out private delegations. On the contrary, some doctrines actually facilitate privatization, because they provide that certain private delegations are exempt from certain constitutional requirements. As for the other doctrines, they do not embody any categorical antiprivate rule.

Private status may be practically relevant in some cases, because the factors that matter to the various doctrines (e.g., how much a delegate is constrained, or the presence of bias) might tend to play out differently between the public and private sectors. But this is an empirical question; the same factors can in principle also invalidate public delegations; and attentiveness to these factors shows how to structure private delegations so they are constitutionally permissible. Constitutional law should continue looking to specific objectionable factors rather than the formal public-versus-private question.

In labeling the (federal) private nondelegation doctrine a myth, Volokh’s article makes a provocative claim. But the article itself is far from mere clickbait (well, clickbait for administrative-law nerds anyway). Indeed, it’s packed with a ton of smart nuance that will sharpen your thinking not only about the role that privateness plays in nondelegation analysis but also about issues related to the classic nondelegation doctrine and related doctrines.

The Ad Law Reading Room is a recurring feature that highlights recent scholarship in administrative law and related fields. You can find all posts in the series here.

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