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Title: Contested Constraints: Regulatory Statutes in America's Modern Administrative State
Authors: Wallach, Philip Alexander
Advisors: Whittington, Keith E
Arnold, R D
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: Bureaucracy
Public Law
Separation of Powers
Statutory Interpretation
Subjects: Political Science
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Leading models of bureaucratic delegation assume that congressional statutes create clear and effective boundaries that constrain executive branch discretion under the law. Focusing on regulatory statutes, this dissertation investigates the nature of these constraints, the mechanisms through which they are realized and made effective in practice, and various conditions that can lead to their failure. In doing so, it highlights the central role of contesting legal interpretations in determining statutes' functional meaning, the irreducibly verbal nature of statutory interpretation, and the difficulty of the task facing interpreters. Drawing on analogies to constitutional and contractual interpretation, the dissertation explains what statutory text can and cannot do. Truly clear text commands near-universal obedience from interpreters in both the executive and judicial branches--and in these instances, principal-agent models depicting Congress as conferring instructions and bureaucrats and judges as carrying them out are largely adequate. But legislators often draft statutes that centrally feature indeterminate language. Where text is indeterminate those charged with making sense of it define its meaning through usage and contestation. These acts of construction are rooted in, but not determined by, the content of the text and necessarily incorporate values not found in the text. Conceptualizing the statute's influence in terms of a principal-agent dynamic is therefore problematic. Through in-depth analysis of several original case studies (the history of the Glass-Steagall Act's interpretation; the Food and Drug Administration's attempt to regulate tobacco during the 1990s; the application of the Clean Air Act to greenhouse gasses) and an original large-n dataset (rulemaking under the Clean Air Act in the 1990s and 2000s), the dissertation traces the processes through which textual constraints become binding. A major theme that emerges is that judges take into account the policy-specific context in which novel interpretations occur, and especially the relative institutional capacities of Congress and bureaucrats. Where Congress seems incapable of providing guidance, judges are more likely to accept strained interpretations of statutory text. The dissertation's most important contribution is to raise neglected empirical questions about the effects of law, answers to which would be of direct use to policymakers.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

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