Tribute to Matt Wiener, by Jack Beermann
When the Chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) stepped down in 2015, the agency (and the entire administrative law community) was to have Matt Wiener, ACUS’s Vice Chairman, waiting in the wings as the statutorily specified Acting Chairman. Not only has Matt served as Acting Chairman ever since, he is also the agency’s Executive Director, placing responsibility for all aspects of the agency’s work squarely on his shoulders. During this time, there is no public servant who has had a more positive impact on administrative law than Matt. In multiple ways, Matt embodies the sort of public servant who deserves recognition by the ABA Section on Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice during this month-long series.
Matt has engaged in public service for most of his career as a lawyer. He served as counsel to Senator Arlen Specter and as counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. He is also active in the ABA Administrative Law Section, currently serving as the co-chair of the Section’s Adjudication Committee. Rounding out his impressive resume, Matt studied law at Stanford Law School, engaged in the private practice of law at the highest level, is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and is an elected member of the American Law Institute. Without intending to minimize his accomplishments in those roles, it is his service as Acting Chairman and Executive Director of ACUS that is the focus of this tribute.
Everyone familiar with the Administrative Conference would agree that Matt has masterfully steered the agency through a critical period during which many basic understandings underlying administrative law were being questioned, and when political controversy might have potentially threatened the agency’s role as a non-partisan, virtually apolitical force for improvement and reform in the field. Matt not only maintained but solidified the bipartisan support that is vital to the agency’s ability to make recommendations that continue to be taken to heart by administrations of both major parties.
Practitioners in the administrative law space know that agency adjudication is the bread and butter of administrative law; academics recognize that it is understudied as compared to the sexier areas of rulemaking and separation of powers. Under Matt’s leadership, ACUS has facilitated research and formulated recommendations in several areas that are central to the proper functioning of agency adjudicatory structures, including hiring procedures for administrative law judges, procedural protections in non-APA adjudications, recusal standards for agency adjudicators, electronic case management procedures, and disclosure of the rules and key case materials in agency adjudications. Agencies have already undertaken a variety of important reforms in accord with these recommendations. And those in the legislative and executive branches have increasingly taken notice of this significant work as the profile of agency adjudication has risen in recent years.
Matt has also overseen projects in a number of other critical areas. During Matt’s tenure as Acting Chairman, the Conference has issued three recommendations related to the proper use of guidance documents and procedures for increasing the transparency of these instruments. Given the enormous controversy surrounding agencies’ guidance practices, these projects could have easily foundered or drawn strong opposition from one side or the other. But largely as a result of Matt’s effective leadership, these recommendations managed to thread the needle and have received acclaim from experts across the political spectrum. Matt also has overseen the Conference’s recent forays into the use of artificial intelligence in agency decisionmaking; the Conference’s statement on the subject issued in late 2020 has already drawn widespread attention and support. Matt’s wise counsel has been absolutely essential to the success of each and every project upon which the Conference has embarked during his tenure.
Merely listing the agency’s work under Matt’s Acting Chairmanship does not come close to capturing the importance of Matt’s leadership. Matt is heavily involved in determining the issues upon which the agency devotes its resources and attention, he recruits members to assume leadership roles on the Conference’s committees from which its recommendations emerge, he supervises the agency’s attorneys and professional staff, and he presides over the meetings of the assembly, where consensus on recommendations is developed among ninety diverse members, fifty from government members, and forty from the public, and a Council composed of presidentially-appointed members of varying political stripes. You have to see him in action to understand how well he handles the delicate negotiations that are necessary to achieve agreement among such a large and diverse group of assembly members. The fact that the Conference’s recommendations almost always pass unanimously and that the agency’s work has achieved such widespread acclaim from across the political spectrum, even in these politically-charged times, is a testament to Matt’s extraordinary leadership and political acumen. In addition to the energy that Matt devotes to his service, he also has the demeanor that Americans wish for in their public servants.
Personable, humble, patient, and friendly are only some of the adjectives that describe Matt. The world of administrative law is fortunate to have Matt in such an important position.
Jack Beermann is a Professor of Law and the Harry Elwood Warren Scholar at Boston University School of Law. His latest book, The Journey to Separate But Equal, was published earlier this year by the Kansas University Press.
This post is part of the ABA Administrative Law Section Series Celebrating Public Service; all the posts in the series are collected here.