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Presidential Transitions: The New Rules

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The Trump Administration was unusually aggressive in using an obscure set of tools to undo the Obama Administration’s regulatory legacy: Congressional Review Act disapprovals, requests that courts hold in abeyance pending cases challenging Obama-era regulations, and suspensions of final regulations. These actions could be seen as part of the Trump Administration norm-breaking approach to regulatory policy, under which it also provided shoddy justifications for its actions, ignored statutory commands, and failed to comply with procedural requirements. There has been a general assumption that the norm-breaking was a result of the Trump Administration’s lack of respect for the rule of law and that it would subside when a new administration took office.

This Article challenges this assumption, showing that the Trump-era toolkit on rollbacks has now also been used aggressively—in some cases more aggressively—by the Biden Administration. Actions that might have been seen as an aberration four years ago should now be regarded as integral components of the administrative state.

In a 2019 Article describing the Trump Administration’s aggressive rollback tools, we predicted that the nature of the presidency would change in significant ways as a result. A one-term president will likely not be able to implement much regulatory policy that is durable. And to do so, a president has a much shorter period during which regulations are likely to be protected from quick undoing by a successor of the opposite party, from roughly three-and-a-half years to about two years. The impact of this trend is particularly significant because, during the current era of congressional gridlock, presidents rely on regulations as the primary way in which to implement their domestic policy programs. In this Article, we provide new evidence from the Biden Administration showing that these changes are here to stay.

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