From Imprimis – the free monthly speech digest of Hillsdale College
by Phillip Hamburger, September, 2014 –
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on May 6, 2014, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.
There are many complaints about administrative law—including that it is arbitrary, that it is a burden on the economy, and that it is an intrusion on freedom. The question I will address here is whether administrative law is unlawful, and I will focus on constitutional history. Those who forget history, it is often said, are doomed to repeat it. And this is what has happened in the United States with the rise of administrative law—or, more accurately, administrative power.
Administrative law is commonly defended as a new sort of power, a product of the 19th and the 20th centuries that developed to deal with the problems of modern society in all its complexity. From this perspective, the Framers of the Constitution could not have anticipated it and the Constitution could not have barred it. What I will suggest, in contrast, is that administrative power is actually very old. It revives what used to be called prerogative or absolute power, and it is thus something that the Constitution centrally prohibited.