Agency Adjudication and Judicial Nondelegation: An Article III Canon

Sohoni, Mila | July 1, 2013

The rules governing judicial review of adjudication by federal agencies are insensitive to a critical separation of powers principle. Article III jurisprudence requires different treatment of agency adjudication depending on whether the agency is adjudicating a “private right” or a “public right.” When agencies adjudicate private rights, review of the agency adjudication must be available to an Article III court on a direct appellate basis. In contrast, Article III jurisprudence does not require review to an Article III court on a direct appellate basis of agency adjudications of purely public rights. That means that federal courts reviewing agency adjudications of private rights have a greater responsibility for vindicating Article III values than federal courts reviewing public rights adjudications. Administrative law’s deference doctrines do not reflect this distinction. The degree of deference courts owe to agencies does not vary depending on whether adjudication involves “public” or “private” rights, in the Article III sense of those terms. In either case, Article III courts review agency adjudication deferentially. This Article challenges that indifference. Courts should calibrate their degree of deference in accordance with the Article III line and apply more robust review to agency adjudication where private rights are at stake. This approach would vindicate separation of powers values, promote better administrative decisionmaking in private rights cases, and dovetail with entrenched doctrines of constitutional and administrative law. Interestingly, the logic of Article III elaborated here suggests one explanation for why some federal courts, in certain cases implicating quasi-private rights, are declining to defer to agency adjudications in a manner recognized to be inconsistent with the demands of ordinary administrative law.