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Delegating for Trust

Courts and legal observers have long been concerned by the scope of authority delegated to administrative agencies. The dominant explanation of delegated authority is that it is necessary to take advantage of administrative agencies’ expertise and expansive rulemaking capacity. Though this explanation makes sense in many settings, it falters in many areas and has given rise to a number of longstanding puzzles, such as why Congress does not invest in its own institutional capacity.

Unrecognized in this debate over the puzzles of delegation is that Congress may delegate to take advantage of another distinctive attribute of administrative decisionmaking: the credible rationality and transparency afforded by administrative procedures. Drawing on positive political theory, this Article shows that Congress may delegate, not for expertise, but for public trust, which the legislature itself (appropriately) lacks due to concerns over the influence of special interest lucre, among other reasons. The procedural constraints that bind administrative agencies, as made credible by judicial review, encourage fairness and rationality and discourage the most egregious abuses of lawmaking authority. In delegating, Congress takes advantage of these credible constraints, which the institution cannot easily develop internally; and in relieving Members of Congress from public suspicion, it also advances their parochial electoral objectives.

This vision of the administrative state accounts for a number of features of our legal and political system. It explains, for instance, why Congress has generally not invested in greater internal capacity—because trust, not capacity is the binding constraint; why, as a positive matter, fairness and transparency are essential to administrative procedures; and why, if those administrative procedures undergo erosion, as some suggest has occurred, anxiety about administrative lawmaking might arise. The Article concludes with a discussion of normative and doctrinal implications of this trust‐based conception of administration, including a call for reorienting administrative procedures to more fully promote credible rationality.