Gregory Elinson & Jonathan Gould, The Politics of Deference, 75 Vanderbilt L.R. (forthcoming 2022).
Like so much else in our present politics, the administrative state is fiercely contested. Conservatives decry its legitimacy and seek to limit its power; liberals defend its necessity and legality. Debates have increasingly centered on the doctrine of Chevron deference, under which courts defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutory language. Given both sides’ increasingly entrenched positions, it is easy to think that conservatives have always warned of the dangers of deference, while liberals have always defended its virtues. Not so. This Article tells the political history of deference for the first time, using previously untapped primary sources including presidential and congressional archives, statements by interest groups, and partisan media sources. It recounts how the politics of deference have varied over time, even though the issue is often framed in terms that resist evolutionary analysis. As the administrative state grew in the 1970s, conservatives in Congress sought to rein in deference, while liberals defended it. These positions reversed in the 1980s, as the Reagan Administration relied on flexible readings of statutes in service of its deregulatory efforts, including in the Chevron case itself. After a period of political détente, the 2010s witnessed a resurgence of conservative opposition and liberal support for Chevron, driven largely by the ascendance of libertarian interests in the Republican Party and the central role of administrative policymaking to contemporary Democratic Party agendas. The Article then develops a framework for understanding the shifting politics of deference. It argues that the politics of deference are the politics of regulation: for nearly a half-century, partisans and interest groups have viewed doctrinal debates as inexorably tied to interests in policy outcomes. Positions about Chevron have varied based on which party controls the presidency and the ideological makeup of the federal courts. But the parties are also asymmetrically reliant on the administrative state, and thus on judicial deference. Liberals depend on deference to advance their regulatory goals in the face of an often-gridlocked Congress, while conservatives have many paths to accomplishing their deregulatory ends. The conservative turn against the so-called “deep state” and Chevron’s non-application in areas where conservatives most favor deference (such as national security) further exacerbate the partisan split on the doctrine. And Chevron has become a rhetorical cudgel in broader partisan debates about the legality and legitimacy of the administrative state as a whole. Unless these dynamics change, Chevron deference will continue to have a political valence. And so long as the doctrine is understood to create winners and losers, partisans and interest groups will rightly see high stakes in ensuring its survival or hastening its demise.
Ruth Bloch Rubin & Gregory Elinson, Anatomy of Backlash: Southern Leaders, Massive Resistance, and the Supreme Court, 1954-1958, 43 Law & Soc. Inquiry 944 (2018).
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Exploiting a range of archival materials, we argue that state‐level variation in judicial backlash to Brown was as much the result of strategic choices by southern political elites as it was the ingrained prejudices of the region's white voters. Presenting case studies of massive resistance in Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Arkansas, we show that elite agency profoundly shaped the patchwork development of grassroots resistance to integration across the South. These findings challenge the prevailing view that backlash to Brown signaled the unequivocal triumph of racial conservatives. Rather, we argue that the region's response offered individual members of the southern elite significant autonomy to direct massive resistance in their home states. We also argue that southern lawmakers were responsible for the South's embrace of popular constitutionalism post‐Brown, and thus that it may not have been “popular” at all. We conclude that studies of judicial backlash would do well to reevaluate the assumption that backlash is necessarily a grassroots phenomenon.
Gregory Elinson, Judicial Partisanship and the Slaughterhouse Cases: Investigating the Relationship Between Courts and Parties, 31 Stud. Am. Pol. Dev. 24 (2017).
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Scholars of judicial behavior have persuasively demonstrated that parties profoundly influence the elaboration of judicial doctrine, but have paid more limited attention to understanding how courts can transform the content of party agendas. In this article, I argue that judges can work to deliberately define the issue positions adopted by the political parties with which they are affiliated. I contend that judges can, like other political actors, use the tools of their office to further explicitly partisan goals. Although they may employ traditional modes of legal reasoning, judges may nevertheless craft their decisions in ways that prioritize certain party principles over others, interpret the law in ways that knit together the beliefs of divergent factions within their party coalition, articulate principles to guide the party's incorporation of new issues, and, in some instances, begin to outline a coherent ideological vision for the party. I develop this theory through a close examination of the Slaughterhouse Cases, regularly cited as a core building block of the American constitutional canon.
Robert A. Kagan & Gregory Elinson, Constitutional Litigation in the United States, in Constitutional Courts in Comparison: The U.S. Supreme Court and the German Federal Constitutional Court (Ralf Rogowski & Thomas Gawron eds., 2d ed. 2016).