The Constitutional Duty To Supervise
abstract. The IRS targets Tea Party organizations’ applications for nonprofit tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Newly opened online federal health exchanges fail to function. Officials at some Veterans Administration hospitals engage in widespread falsification of wait times. A key theme linking these examples is that they all involve managerial and supervisory failure. This should come as no surprise. Supervision and other systemic features of government administration have long been fundamental in shaping how an agency operates, and their importance is only more acute today. New approaches to program implementation and regulation mean that a broader array of actors is wielding broader discretionary governmental authority. The centrality of systemic administration in practice contrasts starkly with its virtual exclusion from contemporary U.S. constitutional law. This exclusion of administration takes a variety of doctrinal guises, but it surfaces repeatedly in both structural and individual rights contexts.
This Article argues that the exclusion of systemic administration from constitutional law is a mistake. This exclusion creates a deeply troubling disconnect between the realities of government and the constitutional requirements imposed on exercises of governmental power. Just as importantly, the current doctrinal exclusion of administration stands at odds with the Constitution’s text and structure, which repeatedly emphasize one particular systemic administrative feature: supervision. This emphasis on supervision is most prominently manifest in Article II’s Take Care Clause, but it also surfaces more broadly as a constitutional prerequisite of delegation of governmental power. Whether it is rooted in Article II, general separation of powers principles, or due process, a duty to supervise represents a basic precept of our federal constitutional structure.
Moreover, concerns about judicial role do not justify the Court’s refusal to engage with systemic administration, and judicial recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise is critical even if the duty is entirely politically enforced. Indeed, recognizing a constitutional duty to supervise is as central to the overall project of constitutional interpretation as it is to the aim of better keying constitutional law to the realities of contemporary governance. Recognizing this duty underscores the need for greater attention to how courts can support constitutional enforcement by the other branches and highlights the porous and critical relationship between constitutional and subconstitutional law.
author. Stanley H. Fuld Professor of Law, Columbia Law School. Special thanks to Barry Friedman, Rob Jackson, John Manning, Jerry Mashaw, Jon Michaels, Henry Monaghan, Trevor Morrison, Jeff Powell, Bill Simon, Richard Squire, Kevin Stack, Adrian Vermeule, David Zaring, and participants at faculty workshops at American, Columbia, and Northwestern law schools and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. Perrin Cooke and Evan Ezray provided outstanding research assistance.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targets applications for nonprofit tax-exempt status by organizations using the name “Tea Party” for special scrutiny.1 The National Security Agency (NSA) repeatedly violates governing privacy requirements and oversteps its authority in conducting surveillance.2 Recently opened online federal health exchanges fail to function, preventing individuals from signing up for health insurance or determining their eligibility for benefits.3 Officials at some Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals manipulate data to hide long delays in scheduling appointments, and there are allegations that some veterans died while on waiting lists.4
A key theme that links these examples is that they all involve managerial and supervisory failure. Most commonly, the problem is too little supervision,5 but sometimes the concern is too much supervision or supervision of the wrong kind.6 The Obama Administration’s experience is hardly unique; similar lists of instances of failed oversight exist for prior administrations and at all levels of government.
The central importance of supervision should not come as a surprise. Supervision and other systemic features of government administration with which it overlaps—planning, policy-setting, monitoring, resource allocation, institutional structures, personnel systems, and the like—are fundamental in shaping how an agency operates and its success in meeting its statutorily imposed responsibilities.7 These systemic features are also precisely what distinguish administrative government. Agencies not only adjudicate individual cases, take specific enforcement actions, or issue discrete rules. They do all these activities on a massive scale as part of a broader project of law implementation that requires coordination, investigation, and prioritization.8 Moreover, if anything, the importance of administration is only more acute today than it has been historically, with new approaches to program implementation and regulation resulting in a broader array of actors wielding greater discretionary authority, often in contexts lacking external controls like judicial review.9 As a result, systemic features of administration—in particular, internal supervision through planning and ongoing monitoring—are increasingly the linchpin for achieving accountability of federal government programs and actions.10
Multiple avenues exist for addressing management and supervisory failures. The recent IRS, NSA, VA, and Health and Human Services (HHS) debacles have triggered extensive media coverage, internal and independent investigations, resignations, proposed legislation, and lawsuits, and they may ultimately lead to criminal prosecutions.11 One route of response that comes much less quickly to mind than these options, however, is constitutional law. Indeed, the centrality of systemic administration in practice contrasts starkly with its virtual exclusion from contemporary U.S. constitutional doctrine. The exclusion of administration takes a variety of doctrinal guises, such as restrictive standing requirements, individualistic mens rea requirements, and limitations on respondeat superior and supervisory liability in suits against government officers.12 To be sure, there are exceptions: procedural due process challenges and institutional reform litigation represent two instances in which administrative and systemic functioning play a more central role in assessing whether constitutional requirements are violated. But in many ways these exceptions prove the rule, as judicial resistance to engaging with administration has led courts to view the exceptions quite narrowly.13
In short, constitutional law stands largely aloft from the reality of administrative governance, with the Supreme Court refusing to subject systemic features of government operations to constitutional scrutiny. I use constitutional law here to refer to judicially determined constitutional doctrine. This is not to deny that constitutional doctrine represents only one dimension of constitutional law. It is judicially enforced constitutional law, as opposed to forms of constitutional law that emerge from the actions of Congress and the President, or constitutional understandings generated by other actors such as administrative agencies, state and local governments, and social movements.14 Yet despite the scholarly attention paid to non-judicial constitutional law of late, the courts continue to play a dominant role as expositors of constitutional meaning. And their willingness to defer to constitutional interpretation by other branches appears, if anything, to be dwindling.15 As a result, the courts’ resistance to incorporating administration serves to exclude it from our most recognized form of constitutional interpretation and perpetuates the view that general aspects of administration fall outside the Constitution’s ambit.
In this Article, I argue that the exclusion of systemic administration from constitutional law is a mistake.16 This exclusion creates a deeply troubling disconnect between the realities of government and constitutional requirements imposed on exercises of governmental power. Authorizing and controlling governmental action, along with establishing the federal government’s structure, are critical constitutional functions.17 Incorporating systemic administration is essential if the Constitution is to perform these functions in ways that are responsive to modern governance.
Furthermore, the current doctrinal exclusion of administration stands at odds with the Constitution. The Constitution specifies few details of federal administrative government, but its text and structure repeatedly emphasize one particular systemic administrative feature: supervision. This emphasis on supervision manifests itself most prominently in Article II’s imposition on the President of a duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,”18 but also surfaces more broadly as a constitutional prerequisite for delegation of governmental power, rooted in separation of powers principles and due process. With such delegation comes responsibility to supervise so as to ensure that the transferred authority is used in a constitutional and accountable fashion. A central claim of this Article is that the Constitution embodies a duty to supervise that current doctrine has simply failed to acknowledge. The precise contours of this duty vary depending on how one conceives of its constitutional basis. A version of the duty based on Article II demands supervision by and within the executive branch, while a version based on principles of delegation extends supervisory obligations to the courts, Congress, and potentially the states. But under both accounts, a duty to supervise represents a basic precept of our federal constitutional structure.
Systemic features of administration thus carry huge practical import and substantial constitutional salience. What then explains their exclusion from constitutional law? The answer is separation of powers concerns and fears of overstepping the judicial role. The Supreme Court put the point bluntly in Lewis v. Casey, insisting that “it is not the role of courts, but that of the political branches, to shape the institutions of government in such fashion as to comply with the laws and the Constitution.”19 The Court has elsewhere emphasized that “[t]he Constitution . . . assigns to the Executive Branch, and not to the Judicial Branch, the duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’”20 Moreover, the concern is not just with respecting the purview of the political branches but also with protecting the courts, because overseeing administration and managing government institutions are not tasks for which the courts have much institutional competence. Courts both lack political accountability and have little expertise in running administrative institutions or in navigating the substantive policy areas at stake.
These concerns about judicial role and competency are real, but they do not justify the Supreme Court’s current refusal to engage with systemic administration. In particular, the challenges that courts would face in directly enforcing a constitutional duty to supervise do not support refusing to recognize that such a duty exists. Direct judicial enforcement sometimes may be appropriate, even if difficult, and recognizing that a supervisory duty exists may open up important avenues for indirect enforcement through subconstitutional law. In addition, recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise may actually serve to mitigate some concerns about judicial aggrandizement. Perhaps most importantly, given the current dominance of the courts in determining constitutional meaning, judicial recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise is critical even if responsibility for enforcing this duty falls entirely on the political branches.
Indeed, recognizing a constitutional duty to supervise is as central to the overall project of constitutional interpretation as it is to better connecting constitutional law to the realities of contemporary governance. The judicial-role concerns implicated by the duty to supervise underscore the need for greater attention to ways in which courts can support constitutional enforcement by the political branches. Recognizing such a duty also highlights the porous boundary between constitutional and subconstitutional law, with statutory or administrative law disputes increasingly functioning as mechanisms for constitutional articulation. Acknowledging this constitutional-subconstitutional interplay and theorizing its proper bounds should be a central focus of contemporary constitutional law and scholarship.
This Article aims to demonstrate the constitutional significance of systemic administration and justify recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise. Such recognition should come from all the branches, and it is notable that President Obama recently referenced his “constitutional duty to supervise the executive branch” in a signing statement.21 But recognition of the duty is particularly needed from the courts, given their preeminent role in constitutional interpretation and their current flawed rejection of administration’s constitutional relevance. Critically, however, judicial recognition does not automatically translate into direct judicial enforcement. Judicial recognition fosters enforcement by Congress and the President by putting the political branches on notice of their constitutional obligations. Moreover, to the extent judicial enforcement occurs, it will commonly be indirect—by means of administrative law. Indeed, recognizing the constitutional duty to supervise will likely have its greatest import as a basis for reframing current administrative-law doctrines and analysis, which—like current constitutional law—insistently exclude administration from their reach.
Part I of this Article describes systemic administration and supervision as well as the variety of forms administration and supervision can take. It then demonstrates the increasingly critical role that both administration and supervision play by focusing on four major trends in contemporary federal government: (1) privatization, (2) cooperative federalism and federal reliance on the states, (3) crisis governance, and (4) presidential administration. In addition to transforming the shape of modern government, all four of these trends represent instances in which judicial review is limited and general administrative constraints like supervision provide critical protections against arbitrary and unaccountable government action. Part I then turns to identifying the numerous doctrinal contexts in which the Supreme Court has rejected or limited the constitutional relevance of systemic administration, with the net result that constitutional law has little to say about key features of modern administrative governance.
Part II undertakes the reconstructive project, offering textual and structural justifications for inferring a constitutional duty to supervise and assessing the extent to which historical practice and precedent provide support for such an approach. This Part focuses on two central constitutional bases, each of which support a distinct version of the duty to supervise: (1) Article II and the Take Care Clause, and (2) structural principles governing delegation. Article II signals the mandatory nature of internal supervision within the executive branch, a key feature unfortunately obscured by the ongoing debate about the scope of the President’s own power over administrative decisionmaking. Supervision’s constitutional importance is also evidenced by the emphasis elsewhere in the Constitution on hierarchical oversight in connection to delegation, as well as by the need for supervision in order to achieve political and legal accountability.
This Part next turns to articulating the scope of the duty to supervise. Although the Article II and delegation bases yield somewhat different accounts, under both bases the duty requires, at its core, systems and structures of internal supervision adequate to preserve the overall hierarchical control and accountability of governmental power. Importantly, a variety of different supervisory arrangements, ranging from traditional bureaucratic rule-bound oversight to more open-ended performance-and-monitoring-based regimes, will often suffice to satisfy the constitutional duty to supervise. The critical question then becomes whether a duty to supervise could be incorporated into constitutional doctrine without exceeding the limits of judicial competence or unduly interfering with the political branches. That question requires a more nuanced assessment than the Supreme Court has so far provided. While the barriers to direct judicial enforcement of a duty to supervise are quite substantial in some contexts, that is not true across the board. In addition, indirect enforcement through subconstitutional means such as administrative law is often a possibility. And judicial recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise, even one entrusted to the political branches to enforce, could yield significant benefits. These include not only better alignment of constitutional doctrine to the realities of administrative government, but also an expansion of the standard judicial account of how constitutional demands are addressed in the modern administrative state.
Part III takes up the task of describing what a constitutional duty to supervise might look like in practice. It first examines the possibility of direct judicial enforcement, focusing on enforcement in the contexts of privatization and institutional reform litigation. It then explores the possibility of indirect and subconstitutional judicial enforcement of a duty to supervise through administrative law. Such an administrative-law approach could prove particularly important in cooperative federalism and crisis governance contexts, but it will entail substantial changes in existing doctrine. This Part concludes by examining non-judicial enforcement, considering possible implications of recognizing a duty to supervise for presidential administration and congressional oversight.
Administration and supervision encompass a wide range of phenomena. Two features merit particular emphasis: the systemic cast of administration and the broad and diverse forms that supervision can take in practice. Systemic administration and internal oversight are becoming increasingly central mechanisms for ensuring accountability in government operations and programs. Yet notwithstanding this growing centrality, a number of doctrines serve to exclude systemic features of administration from constitutional analysis. The net result is a troubling and expanding mismatch between current constitutional doctrine and contemporary governmental reality.
Administration is a familiar concept. The term appears in a variety of contexts (not just in connection to government) and is used to describe generic phenomena—household or business administration, for example—as well as specific entities, such as the Obama Administration or the Social Security Administration. Yet across these diverse settings, the core meaning of administration remains similar: it refers to the running or managing of an organization or activity.22 As this definition suggests, administration has a basic systemic character. Though the term is given substance through discrete acts and decisions, “administration” refers more to the overarching operations that underlie and frame these discrete phenomena than to the phenomena themselves. Key components of administration are planning and prioritization, policy creation, program design and evaluation, budgeting and resource allocation, internal organization and structure, intra-agency and interagency coordination, networking and collaboration, personnel systems, technology, and—of particular relevance here—supervision.23
Supervision, in turn, entails direction and oversight, but it too can take a variety of forms. Supervisors may specify in detail how subordinates are to act or the tasks to be undertaken and then review closely for compliance. Or they may stipulate certain performance goals but grant subordinates or organizational units they oversee broad discretion in determining how to achieve those goals. Supervision can also take any number of forms between these poles. It can occur ex ante, ex post, or on a continuous basis, and it can be more top-down or collaborative. The actual mechanisms of supervision are similarly varied, spanning formal complaint and appeals procedures for challenging specific decisions, ad hoc or peer review, or general monitoring through audits and performance assessment.24 Agency managers adopt rules and requirements that bind agency personnel and also oversee lower-level decisionmaking through more informal guidance or revisable plans.25 Supervision involves not simply internal oversight of the agency, but also oversight of private contractors and other governments implementing federal programs, as well as of interagency undertakings and in some instances review of other agencies’ actions.26 Supervision most frequently occurs within an agency, but sometimes a statute gives one agency power to supervise the actions of another agency or its employees, and some agencies and offices undertake supervision across the federal government as a whole.27
Bureaucracy represents the traditional model for modern public administration. In Max Weber’s seminal account, “[B]ureaucracy consists of a hierarchically structured, professional, rule-bound, impersonal, meritocratic, appointed, and disciplined body of public servants with a specific set of competencies.”28 Supervision in a Weberian bureaucracy takes a decidedly hierarchical and rule-bound form, with “a clearly established system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by higher ones,” as well as “the possibility of appealing, in a precisely regulated manner, the decision of a lower office to the corresponding superior authority.”29
Federal administrative agencies, along with many other organizations, display many of the characteristics that for Weber typified bureaucracy: major federal agencies are generally hierarchically organized and staffed substantially by career public servants with removal protection. In addition, agency modes of operation are frequently governed by detailed rules.30 Yet the reality of power in modern government bureaucracies is much messier and more complex than the Weberian ideal, with lower-level staff and street-level employees often exercising substantial discretion over day-to-day implementation of government programs.31 In any event, federal agencies have always been an amalgam, subject to sometimes dueling political principals and fragmented leadership, containing many more political appointees than their European counterparts, and heavily dependent on independent state and local governments for program implementation.32
Over the last few decades, moreover, new forms of public administration and oversight have risen to the fore. Brought to prominence at the federal level in the 1990s by the Clinton Administration’s National Performance Review and often falling under the “new governance” or experimentalist labels, these approaches involve greater flexibility and discretion for lower-level officials, more decentralized implementation, and greater reliance on private actors.33 Supervision in such arrangements also takes a different guise, one characterized more by planning, audits, ongoing monitoring, performance assessment, and peer review than by rule-bound appeals to superior officials or review of specific decisions.34 Evidence suggests that these new approaches have not displaced overarching hierarchical arrangements so much as supplemented them, with the net result that multiple forms of supervision occur simultaneously.35
Systemic administration and supervision have long been central features of executive branch functioning.36 But they are becoming even more important in contemporary regulatory and administrative contexts, with supervision in particular increasingly critical to preserving the rule of law and governmental accountability. Four recent administrative developments demonstrate the enhanced importance of systemic administration and supervision: increasing privatization, expanding federal-state cooperation, crisis governance, and the growth in presidential administration.
Privatization in the United States involves the government contracting with private entities and individuals for services or in other ways transferring responsibility for performance of governmental functions to private hands.37 Privatization is perhaps the most prominent manifestation of the broader trend towards more decentralized, collaborative, and discretionary administrative arrangements associated with new governance. As Jon Michaels has noted, private “service contracting is now ubiquitous in military combat, municipal policing, rule promulgation, environmental policymaking, prison administration, and public-benefits determinations.”38 Although current hard data on federal service contracting is difficult to obtain, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that “$320 billion—or about 60 percent of all federal dollars spent on contracts for goods and services—went to support the contract workforce in fiscal 2010.”39
Privatization has many important effects on government programs and institutions. It can inject innovation and flexibility, as well as result in improved performance.40 At the same time, private contractors gain day-to-day control over program implementation, institutional operation, and service delivery.41 But private contractors are largely exempt from the statutory or regulatory controls applicable to governmental employees and are rarely subject to constitutional demands under the state-action doctrine. Political oversight is often lacking, and information on how contractors operate can be difficult to obtain, due in part to the inapplicability of freedom-of-information laws.42 The result is that privatization poses a serious risk to “principle[s] of constitutional accountability” and “constitutionally constrained government.”43 Such concerns about undermining constraints on government arise in a range of contexts, from welfare privatization to national security, each with somewhat different features.44 A core example of privatization in national security, for example, is private contractors’ supplying key security and interrogation services.45 But national-security privatization also extends to private companies’ allowing the government to access massive amounts of privately held data on individuals’ communications.46 The latter type of arrangement—the scope of which was revealed by an independent national-security contractor—is not privatization in the sense of private entities’ performing governmental functions. But it raises similar concerns about how reliance on the private sector can expand government power in ways that are not easily susceptible to traditional legal controls.47
Although traditional governmental controls are limited in privatization contexts, alternative accountability mechanisms may exist, particularly in the guise of contractually imposed remedies and requirements.48 Critically, the effectiveness of these contractual mechanisms largely depends on the extent of supervision and contract oversight undertaken by government agencies.49 As the botched rollout of the federal healthcare exchanges revealed, poor government oversight can fundamentally undermine government programs by allowing private contractor failures to go unidentified and unaddressed.50 Equally important are other systemic features of contracting relationships, such as the degree to which program participants can choose among private service providers or the level and structure of contract payments.51 Indeed, viewing privatization systemically is crucial for assessing its full impact on governmental structure, including gauging the extent to which it operates to aggrandize the executive branch and presidential power.52 Hence, the tremendous growth in privatized institutions and programs serves to make systemic features of administration especially important as mechanisms for controlling private contractors and serves as the main point of entry for assessing the operation of privatized programs.
Cooperative federalism is an even more familiar aspect of modern government than privatization is—one that some have traced back to the nation’s early administrative arrangements, but one that became particularly prominent first with the New Deal and then with federal health and environmental regulatory initiatives in the 1960s.53 Cooperative federalism denotes instances in which state and local governments undertake primary responsibility for implementing federal programs or enforcing federal law under the supervision and oversight of federal agencies.54 Although the federal government imposes program requirements and conditions that states must meet to receive funds, many scholars contend that “the real authority under such regimes often rests with the states which ultimately exercise considerable discretion in making and implementing policy.”55
Major legislative and administrative initiatives of the last few years have significantly increased the scope of such federal-state cooperation. Not only is the federal government asking states to play new roles in federal programs, but it is also giving states broader discretion and control over the shape of their participation. The Affordable Care Act is a prime example. It relies partly on state-run health benefit exchanges, expanded federally funded state Medicaid programs, and state enforcement of its insurance requirements. Under both the statute and governing federal regulations, states have substantial leeway in determining how these functions will be performed.56 Another manifestation of increased federal-state cooperation is the recent expansion in the use and scope of administrative waivers in a number of cooperative federalism programs, with the federal government’s acceptance of state implementation plans that operate under terms notably different from those set out in governing federal statutes.57
At the same time as state discretion in implementing federal programs has increased, courts have restricted the availability of judicial review of state implementation decisions. The doctrinal culprits here are many, including increased refusal to find implied statutory rights of action, new restrictions on Section 1983 suits to enforce federal statutes, heightened standing barriers, and pullbacks in institutional reform litigation.58 Indeed, these two trends are mutually reinforcing, as greater state implementation discretion heightens the risk that courts will find barriers to reviewing the substance of state decisionmaking.59 Meanwhile, congressional oversight tends to focus on the federal part of federal-state programs, with Congress more likely to intervene to question federal administrative requirements at the states’ behest than to investigate state implementation directly.60
The net effect of these trends toward increased state discretion and reduced judicial review is to make federal administrative supervision an increasingly important means for ensuring accountability of state-implemented federal programs. Cooperative federalism can yield accountability gains as well: state administrative processes and state oversight mechanisms are significant in ensuring that state-run programs adhere to governing federal requirements. Moreover, states play an important role in challenging requirements that they consider to be unlawful or excessive and in developing new programmatic approaches for the federal government to adopt.61 A danger of enhanced federal administrative oversight is that it may undercut these important state functions in national programs. But the costs of allowing states to operate federal programs in ways that are at odds with core federal policies also need to be taken into account, and in any event federal administrative engagement and oversight will be a prime mechanism for changing federal requirements in response to state protests.62 The Court’s recent decision in Douglas v. Independent Living Center63 underscores the growing centrality of federal administrative oversight in the cooperative federalism realm, with the Court there emphasizing the importance of federal agency approval of a challenged state policy to the nature and scope of judicial review.64
A third development, crisis governance, refers to the expansive assertions of authority made by the executive branch in response to sudden emergencies.65 Crisis governance—evident in national-security actions taken after the September 11th attacks and in the dramatic actions taken by the Federal Reserve and Department of the Treasury during the financial crisis of 2008—is less clearly a growing administrative phenomenon than one that is of great salience when it occurs. On the other hand, programs and initiatives adopted in response to crisis events often continue after the immediate urgency has passed, as recent disclosures about ongoing NSA surveillance demonstrate.66
A prominent feature of crisis governance is limited contemporaneous scrutiny by entities outside of the executive branch, including the courts or Congress. To be sure, both the courts and Congress have imposed constraints on executive-branch national-security and financial-crisis initiatives.67 But as Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule contend, the need for urgent action means that both congressional and judicial interventions largely occur after the fact and often involve substantial deference and delegation to the executive branch.68 Moreover, even post hoc judicial review is often quite limited as a result of the types of actions agencies take, statutory exemptions, and justiciability barriers.69 Clapper v. Amnesty International USA provides a prime example of these barriers. There, the Supreme Court denied standing to individuals seeking to challenge a national-security surveillance program on Fourth Amendment grounds because the plaintiffs could not show that interception of their own communications was “certainly impending.”70 Given the clandestine nature of the program and its targets, this was a nearly impossible task until the government began informing defendants when their trials involved evidence obtained through the program.71
Crisis governance is itself one manifestation of the fourth trend: expanding presidential administration. The President today plays a central lawmaking role, spurred by multiple causes, including the birth of the modern national administrative state; new economic, social, and global realities; divided government and changed political practices.72 Acting through administrative agencies as well as more unilaterally by means of executive orders and presidential memoranda, Presidents wield broad power to set national policy on a wide range of issues.73 Recent examples include President Obama’s immigration enforcement initiatives and his directive to the EPA on greenhouse gases,74 but he is far from the only President to undertake major policy moves in this fashion.75
To note the President’s de facto lawmaking role is not to contend that all such presidential assertions of authority accord with the Constitution.76 Indeed, in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court last Term rejected President Obama’s wielding of the recess appointment power during pro forma Senate sessions.77 Realistically, however, presidential lawmaking and unilateralism represent a central feature of contemporary federal government.78 Expanded presidential authority is also a context in which administration and supervision are particularly relevant. This expansion has both spurred and been reinforced by a tremendous growth in distinctly presidential administrative capacity or what is often called the institutional presidency, which encompasses White House staff, OMB, and the Executive Office of the President more broadly. Such increased capacity reflects two key dynamics that Terry Moe identified as accompanying increased popular expectations of presidential leadership: centralization of decisionmaking and politicization of agencies.79 Current manifestations of these dynamics are centralized regulatory review by OMB and OIRA pursuant to executive order, presidential directives, expanded use of political appointees, and White House policy czars.80
External scrutiny of presidential administration occurs more frequently outside of the crisis governance context, but again is often quite limited. Executive orders and other presidential actions can be subject to judicial review if they affect rights or duties of individuals outside the executive branch.81 Often, however, these measures escape judicial scrutiny—either because they are expressly not judicially enforceable or involve actions that are presumptively nonreviewable, or because courts tend to ignore presidential involvement when reviewing agency actions.82 Presidential unilateral actions often trigger congressional attention, but the obstacles built into the legislative process (including the President’s veto power) make enacting legislation overturning such actions quite difficult.83
These limits to congressional and judicial review do not mean that the executive branch operates essentially unconstrained in instances of crisis governance or presidential action. But the relevant constraints come largely from within the executive branch itself, through what is sometimes called the internal separation of powers: internal review structures, involvement of multiple agencies, inspectors general, agency-generated procedural and substantive limitations, professional commitments and reputational concerns, and executive branch adherence to governing law.84 In other words, systemic features of internal administration are again critical to ensuring accountable government.
Moreover, it bears emphasizing that presidential administration and supervision themselves can be key mechanisms for ensuring executive branch accountability. Justice (then-Professor) Kagan famously emphasized the political accountability benefits of presidential administration, and others have focused on the ways that presidential or centralized review can check agency capture or excessive tunnel vision.85 In some instances, such as the Obama Administration’s instructions to agencies to grant same-sex couples equal rights in a range of contexts after United States v. Windsor, presidential direction helps enforce legal constraints.86Hence, assessing the constitutionality of the President’s expanded role entails close attention to systemic administrative features and their full impact on how the government operates.
Administration and supervision’s centrality to the functioning of modern government contrasts mightily with constitutional law, where systemic administration is largely excluded from judicial analysis. The judicial separation of administration from constitutional law is of long duration, articulated in Marbury v. Madison’s famous statement that “the province of the court is, solely, to decide on the rights of individuals, not to inquire how the executive, or executive officers, perform duties in which they have a discretion.”87 This separation takes a multitude of doctrinal guises, but they combine to make resistance to incorporating systemic administration into an indelible feature of current constitutional law.
Standing doctrine serves as the front line in precluding judicial consideration of systemic administration, with its requirement of individualized injury and connected prohibition on suits raising generalized grievances.88 True, individuals able to demonstrate the requisite individualized injury can challenge government administration, and the determination of what constitutes a generalized grievance is highly malleable.89 So the generalized grievance prohibition does not operate as a categorical bar to considering challenges to administrative structures.90 But the Court’s insistence on an individualized focus, along with the high threshold it imposes for proving injury, suggests that the instances in which an individual is able to challenge systemic features of administration will be few and far between. As the Court put the point in Allen v. Wright, “[S]uits challenging, not specifically identifiable Government violations of law, but the particular programs agencies establish to carry out their legal obligations . . . are rarely if ever appropriate for federal-court adjudication.”91
Institutional reform litigation might seem at first glance to be a significant exception. The primary aim of institutional reform litigation is to use discrete instances of individual-right violations to justify broad remedial measures that reengineer how the institutions or programs at issue are administered.92 Nonetheless, courts allow institutional reform litigation to proceed despite its systemic edge. A recent striking example is Brown v. Plata, a case involving class actions on behalf of California prisoners with serious medical and mental health disorders.93 The plaintiffs did not challenge specific “deficiencies in care” to which they were individually subject but instead alleged that “systemwide deficiencies in the provision of medical and mental health care . . . , taken as a whole,” violated the Eighth Amendment—a claim the Supreme Court accepted in affirming the lower court’s remedial order.94
Yet the facts of Plata were extreme, and it would be a mistake to read the decision as signaling broad availability of systemic challenges.95 The Court has rejected institutional reform suits on standing grounds precisely because of their unduly systemic character, insisting in Lewis v. Casey that “merely the status of being subject to a governmental institution that was not organized or managed properly” was an insufficient basis on which “to invoke the intervention of the courts” absent evidence of a distinct and concrete injury caused by that improper management.96 Nor has the Court demonstrated much sympathy for institutional reform litigation of late, criticizing such litigation as entailing judicial assumption of responsibility for administrative choices that should be made by the political branches or state governments.97 Hence, institutional reform litigation demonstrates the limitations on judicial consideration of systemic administration as much as it represents a deviation from the norm.
Standing’s barrier to generalized challenges is well known. Less broadly appreciated is the judicial resistance to considering systemic administration that appears in separation of powers challenges. Overall administration would seem particularly relevant to doctrines addressing the constitutionality of different federal governmental structures. Surprisingly, however, consideration of systemic administration in separation of powers analysis is uneven and narrow in scope.
Take, for instance, contemporary nondelegation doctrine. Although challenges to legislation as delegating excessively broad authority to the executive branch are almost uniformly rejected, the basis on which these claims falter has varied over time. Some early post–New Deal cases paid particular heed to how agencies wielded their delegated powers, emphasizing administrative rules or internal procedures that governed agency determinations.98 More recently, however, the Court has downplayed the role that internal administrative constraints play in assessing a delegation’s constitutionality, insisting that the onus is on Congress to provide an intelligible principle; self-limitation by an agency is constitutionally insufficient.99 Post–New Deal jurisprudence emphasizing the importance of government supervision of private delegations has not been questioned, but in these cases the courts never required much by way of actual supervision or probed behind formal provisions for government ratification of private decisionmaking, however perfunctory.100
Administrative structure surfaces more centrally in cases addressing Article II and the scope of presidential power. Thus, for example, the extent to which an executive branch officer’s decisionmaking is supervised determines whether she qualifies as a principal or inferior officer, resulting in scrutiny of oversight mechanisms in Appointment Clause challenges.101 Similarly, removal challenges focus on the extent to which a removal restriction unconstitutionally limits the President’s ability to oversee the executive branch.102
Yet many important aspects of systemic administration are often excluded from analysis even in the Article II context. Again, courts place emphasis largely on formal oversight mechanisms rather than on the extent to which an officer’s decisions are actually reviewed or controlled. The Court’s 2010 decision in Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Co. Accounting Oversight Board is a case in point, with the majority there zeroing in on one slice of administrative structure—removal power—and discounting other ways in which the Securities and Exchange Commission exercised broad power over the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s functions.103 Moreover, removal is an individualistic mechanism of supervision. It focuses on controlling a particular official and assumes that the single official can then control how a vast modern agency operates. Perhaps most notably, this Article II case law is largely silent on the idea of presidential oversight as a duty that the President must undertake and not just a power the President must have available. Although Free Enterprise described the President as subject to a nondelegable duty to “active[ly] . . . supervise,” the concept of a presidential duty to supervise received no further development there or in other decisions.104
2. Individual Rights: The Eighth Amendment, Due Process, and Restrictions on Liability for Failed Supervision
An even clearer pattern of exclusion or limited acknowledgement of systemic administration occurs in the individual rights context. Again, this exclusion is not absolute, with the Court at times giving internal administration mechanisms constitutional significance; examples include administrative licensing systems in First Amendment challenges and internal administrative procedures in the habeas and Bivens contexts.105 But there are many other instances in which the Court has refused to accord constitutional salience to administration despite its seeming relevance.106 More importantly, the Court has developed substantive standards that restrict constitutional consideration of systemic administration and have largely eviscerated supervisory liability.
The phenomenon of anti-systemic substantive standards is clearly evident in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Extension of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to the conditions under which prisoners are held has led to substantial court involvement in the administration and operation of prisons.107 Yet the tests the Court has developed over time to identify Eighth Amendment violations (perhaps, in part, to limit that involvement) are remarkably individualistic and noninstitutional in their framing.108 In particular, the Court requires that a prisoner demonstrate not just a grave deprivation—in the Court’s words, a deprivation of “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities”—but also that prison officials act with subjective “deliberate indifference” to the harm they are imposing.109
Two decisions, Wilson v. Seiter110 and Farmer v. Brennan,111 demonstrate the resulting exclusion of administration from judicial review. Wilson involved a Section 1983 action alleging systemic failures in Ohio’s operation of a state prison.112 The Court held that prisoners must demonstrate a culpable state of mind on the part of prison officials that rises to the level of “deliberate indifference” in order for inadequate prison conditions to constitute punishment sufficient to trigger the Eighth Amendment.113 But as Justice White noted in concurring in the judgment, “Inhumane prison conditions often are the result of cumulative actions and inactions by numerous officials inside and outside a prison, sometimes over a long period of time. . . . [I]ntent simply is not very meaningful when considering a challenge to an institution, such as a prison system.”114 In Farmer, the Court took this individualistic focus one step further, holding that the requisite test for deliberate indifference was recklessness and that recklessness should be measured subjectively.115 To be subject to liability, therefore, “[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.”116 As in Wilson, the opinion in Farmer focuses on the state of mind of specific prison officials, not on how the prisons they oversaw actually operated or whether these prisons were administered in a manner well below the norm.117
In the due process realm, the reigning Mathews v. Eldridge analysis—under which the court balances the individual’s private interest at stake against the government’s interest and the potential accuracy benefits from different or additional procedures—has a decidedly systemic and managerial cast.118 The relevant governmental interests are overall administrative concerns, and accuracy is also defined systemically.119 Even the individual interest at stake is often abstracted away from the particulars of the plaintiff’s situation.120 Still, substantial aspects of government administration are denied constitutional relevance even here. A prime culprit is limitation on the types of property interests that trigger due process protection to those to which an individual has “a legitimate claim of entitlement.”121 This limitation precludes procedural due process scrutiny of the numerous administrative arrangements under which administrators exercise broad discretion and such entitlements are deemed lacking.122 Moreover, in restricting the scope of interests that trigger due process protection, the Court has invoked the same concern with inappropriate intervention of the federal courts in “day-to-day management” that is evident elsewhere in its case law.123
Failure-to-train claims represent another interesting linkage between due process—here, substantive due process—and systemic administration. For example, City of Canton v. Harris held that a municipality could be found to have violated due process for its failure to adequately train its employees, “where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom [its employees] come into contact.”124 Canton rests on recognition of the role that general administrative measures such as training and oversight play in preventing constitutional violations, and thus, like Mathews, constitutes a rare acknowledgment of systemic administration’s constitutional significance.125 Even so, application of the deliberate indifference standard has significantly limited the viability of failure-to-train and failure-to-supervise challenges. Although such claims occasionally succeed, such a result is rare.126 It is all the more striking, therefore, that the Canton Court justified its imposition of the deliberate indifference standard not on due process’s substantive demands but rather on the prohibition on respondeat superior liability in suits brought under Section 1983.127
The Court famously articulated the prohibition on respondeat superior liability in Monell v. Department of Social Services, basing it on the language and legislative history of Section 1983.128 Scholars and jurists have criticized this rationale, but the Court has shown little inclination to revisit the issue.129 Instead, it has often reaffirmed the prohibition on respondeat superior liability130 and extended it to the context of Bivens suits against federal officers—even though the availability of Bivens suits is inferred directly from the Constitution and thus is not limited by any underlying statute.131 Hence, although private employers are vicariously liable for actions taken by their employees in the usual course of employment, public employers are not.
At the same time as it denied respondeat superior liability, Monell ruled that a municipality could be liable under Section 1983 if “a municipal ‘policy’ or ‘custom’ . . . caused the plaintiff’s injury,” as liability in such a case would be direct rather than vicarious.132 In theory, Monell’s policy exception represents another significant incorporation of administration into constitutional rights enforcement. In practice, however, Monell’s policy exception has not lived up to its billing. Fear of violating the prohibition on respondeat superior liability has led the Court to restrict liability to actions by an official municipal policymaker with authority to establish the city’s policy in a particular area; to demand a high level of culpability; and to require tight causation “between [a] policymaker’s inadequate decision and the particular injury alleged.”133 These requirements not only substantially limit the exception’s practical utility, but also preclude consideration of key administrative forces such as street-level decisions and practices.134 In addition, these tight culpability and causation requirements serve to exclude liability for “‘systemic’ injuries,” which “result not so much from the conduct of any single individual, but from the interactive behavior of several government officials, each of whom may be acting in good faith.”135
Perhaps most importantly, the Court’s denial of respondeat superior liability precludes consideration of all of the ways that government agencies control and shape actions by their employees separate from official policies or customs. The focus is put on individual employees, but individual employees’ actions cannot be accurately assessed in isolation from the institutional contexts in which they occur. Instead, agency cultures, practices, and structures profoundly affect how personnel act and the weight given certain types of concerns.136 In addition, “the threat that damages might be levied against the city may encourage those in a policymaking position to institute internal rules and programs designed to minimize the likelihood of unintentional infringements on constitutional rights.”137 Whether respondeat superior liability would lead to better deterrence of constitutional violations, overdeterrence, or even any measurable deterrence is a source of some debate.138 But the key point for my purposes here is that the Court has largely excluded judicial consideration of such incentives on agency behavior by categorically prohibiting respondeat superior liability.139 To the extent the Court considers the incentive effects of liability, the Court maintains an individualistic focus in the context of developing immunity doctrines that limit government officers’ personal liability.140 And strikingly, in doing so, the Court does not consider administrative features such as near universal indemnification of governmental employees, which likely affects how individual officers respond to the possibility of being sued.141
The related denial of supervisory liability under Section 1983 and Bivens serves to further exclude consideration of administration in individual rights enforcement. Supervisory liability claims represent an effort to avoid Monell’s ban on respondeat superior and vicarious liability by charging high-level government officials with direct liability for their deficient supervision of subordinates.142 A recent assertion of supervisory liability appeared in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, in which the plaintiffs brought suit against the Attorney General and FBI Director for, among other things, knowing of and acquiescing in their subordinates’ policy of subjecting post-9/11 detainees to harsh conditions of confinement solely on account of their race, religion, and national origins.143 Appellate courts had allowed the possibility of such supervisory liability claims under somewhat varying standards, and the government defendants had conceded that “they would be liable if they had ‘actual knowledge’ of discrimination by their subordinates and exhibited ‘deliberate indifference’ to that discrimination.”144 Nonetheless, the Court rejected such deficient supervision as a basis for liability in terms that suggested elimination of supervisory liability altogether, stating that “[i]n a § 1983 suit or a Bivens action—where masters do not answer for the torts of their servants—the term ‘supervisory liability’ is a misnomer.”145 As a result, in order for the defendant officials to be liable, the plaintiff had to plead and prove that the officials had acted with discriminatory purpose.146
Iqbal’s rejection of supervisory liability is not surprising. Leaving aside the Court’s likely reluctance to second guess high-level officials’ responses to the September 11th attacks, parsing the line between direct liability for inadequate supervision of subordinates who commit constitutional violations and vicarious liability for actions of subordinates is difficult indeed. Worse, unlike respondeat superior, which would impose liability on the governmental employer, liability for deficient supervision would attach to individual superior officers, whose ability to exercise close supervision may be seriously constrained by institutional forces over which they have little control. Inadequate supervision seems more likely to be an institutional failing than an individual one. But the fault for this misframing lies with the Court’s insistence on approaching liability under Section 1983 and Bivens in individualized rather than institutional terms. Having done that, and having developed the deliberate indifference standard in other contexts,147 the Court’s preclusion of supervisory liability claims subject to this standard is difficult to defend.
This overview, spanning a variety of constitutional doctrines, suffices to demonstrate four key themes. First is the Court’s deep reluctance to incorporate general government administration into constitutional law, a reluctance that is manifested in an array of doctrinal requirements and appears to have increased with time. Second, when administration does enter constitutional analysis, courts emphasize specific, identified practices rather than overall institutional functioning and formal administrative features instead of actual practice. Third, supervision makes a decidedly one-sided appearance. Although the Court demands that provision be made for the President and high-level officials to oversee the actions of lower officials, little attention is paid to whether such oversight actually occurs, and the Court is extremely reluctant to fault high-level officers for failed supervision. The net effect is that systemic administrative functioning is denied constitutional relevance, and no constitutional claim can be made simply because a government agency or institution is inadequately managed or supervised.
The fourth theme is that underlying this exclusion of administration lie concerns about the proper judicial role. Courts sometimes voice these concerns in terms of an objection that general policy choices and priority-setting should be left to politically accountable branches and sometimes in terms of limited judicial competency, specifically the courts’ lack of expertise in assessing administrative adequacy and inability to force meaningful change. Either way, the gist is clear: systemic administration is beyond the courts’ legitimate purview. But even though constitutional doctrine’s exclusion of systemic administration turns so heavily on distinctly judicial factors, the Court never suggests that general aspects of agency structure and functioning might carry greater constitutional weight outside the courts. Instead, at most, the Court states that the Constitution assigns responsibility for shaping administration and overseeing law execution to the President and Congress.148
A final word should be said about administrative law, which might seem to be the natural home for fuller judicial consideration of systemic administration. Administrative law, after all, is centrally concerned with how agencies operate, and systemic administrative features play a central role in determining how well an agency performs. Indeed, systemic administration constitutes a central focus of executive-branch-generated administrative law, perhaps most clearly evident in presidential creation of a centralized process for regulatory review.149
Nonetheless, judicially enforced administrative law excludes many systemic aspects of agency functioning in ways very similar to constitutional law.150 Much of this exclusion occurs through jurisdictional doctrines, with the Court reading the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) provision for review of “final agency action” to require that suit be brought against discrete agency actions rather than against the agency’s broader policies or programs that those actions reflect.151 Although this line of cases ostensibly turns on the text of the APA, the Court’s separation of powers concerns with judicial involvement in administration plainly fuel its statutory reading. In Justice Scalia’s typically pointed phrasing, the limitation of final agency action to discrete acts ensures that individuals “cannot seek wholesale improvement of this program by court decree, rather than in the offices of the Department or the halls of Congress, where programmatic improvements are normally made.”152
The effect is not just to preclude “broad programmatic attacks,” but more particularly to forestall challenges to systemic nonenforcement and agency inaction, despite the APA’s express grant of review over agency failures to act.153 The Court’s 2004 decision in Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance underscored this point, holding that the APA’s provision for suit to “compel agency action unreasonably withheld or unreasonably delayed”154 was available “only where a plaintiff asserts that an agency failed to take a discrete agency actionthat it is required to take.”155 Rarely do claims of systemic agency failure involve such discrete and required actions; instead, agencies often will have broad discretion in choosing how to implement their statutory responsibilities, and “[g]eneral deficiencies in compliance . . . lack the specificity requisite for agency action.”156
The exclusion of systemic administration from administrative law is not total, and sometimes courts will accord weight to more general aspects of agency functioning. One prominent instance is United States v. Mead, where the Court tied the deference accorded agency statutory interpretations to the procedures by which the agencies promulgated them and the extent to which they were subject to centralized agency review.157 Even Mead’s engagement with administrative structure, however, was limited. Rather than expressly tying deference to whether an interpretation is adopted by an agency’s leadership, Mead put prime focus on congressional authorization and agency use of relatively formal procedures, and it gave no weight to the fact that the interpretation in question had been made by central headquarters.158 But courts have also been reluctant to allow judicial review of true agency guidance (as opposed to an agency statement claiming to be guidance but actually operating as a de facto rule), notwithstanding the fact that guidance is a central mechanism by which higher agency officials control lower-level discretion.159
In short, the main forces driving agency action fall largely outside of judicial administrative law’s ambit. Moreover, administrative law continues to have a court-centric focus, despite increased attention to administrative law as it surfaces within the executive branch.160 As a result, as Daniel Farber and Anne Joseph O’Connell recently remarked, the “actual workings of the administrative state have increasingly diverged from the assumptions animating” administrative law.161
The mismatch between the current legal constructs and the reality of modern administrative government is reason enough to reconsider existing doctrine’s exclusion of systemic administration. As important, however, is the significance that the Constitution itself assigns to systemic administration, in particular the administrative feature of supervision or internal oversight by federal officers. This Part offers an argument for inferring a constitutional duty to supervise. It first sets out two constitutional grounds—one rooted in Article II and the Take Care Clause, the other in delegation and accountability principles—for inferring such a duty and analyzes the scope of the duty to supervise that results from each ground. This Part then turns to the question of whether a duty to supervise is judicially enforceable.
The argument for a constitutional duty to supervise offered here draws on many conventional sources of constitutional interpretation, including constitutional text, historical practice, precedent, and normative and pragmatic analysis.162 But the preeminent basis is constitutional structure, with the duty to supervise inferred from the hierarchical ordering and accountability relationships evident in the Constitution.163 Such structural reasoning frequently appears in separation of powers analysis and is particularly appropriate in this context, given limited textual guidance and the lack of prior judicial engagement with supervision’s constitutional underpinnings. Moreover, structural reasoning is well-suited to instances such as the duty to supervise, where, as I argue below, primary enforcement may often lie with the political branches.164
Article II provides the most express textual constitutional recognition of a duty to supervise. Unfortunately, such a duty and its implications are lost in current debates, which focus instead on whether the President has the right to control administrative decisionmaking. This focus not only downplays presidential obligation in favor of presidential power, but also obscures the fact that Article II’s emphasis on oversight and supervision is not limited to the President. Instead, the need for oversight and supervision represents a broader structural principle running throughout Article II’s treatment of the executive branch.
As Jerry Mashaw has put it, there is a hole in the Constitution where administration should be.165 Almost none of the federal government’s administrative structure—the different departments, their responsibilities, leadership, interrelationships—is constitutionally specified. Instead, the Constitution grants Congress broad power to construct the administrative apparatus “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” the federal government’s powers, including not just those granted to Congress but “all other Powers vested . . . in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”166 Congress acts, however, subject to some structural limitations, largely specified in Article II.167 These include that “[t]he executive Power shall be vested in a President” and that the President “shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy”; “may require” a written opinion from “the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices”; commissions all officers; appoints principal officers with senatorial advice and consent and inferior officers if Congress so provides; and “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”168
The Take Care Clause is particularly relevant to considering constitutional supervisory duties. Two points seem evident from its text. The first, indicated by the Clause’s use of the passive voice and the sheer practical impossibility of any other result, is that the actual execution of the laws will be done by others.169 Despite vesting the executive power in the President, the Framers did not expect that the President would be personally implementing the laws, with advocates of strong executive power even acknowledging that “[w]ithout [key] ministers[,] the Executive can do nothing of consequence.”170 This point is reinforced by the Appointments Clause’s provision for executive officers as well as the Opinion Clause’s assurance that the President can obtain written opinions from principal officers.171 As the Court has stated, quoting George Washington, “In light of ‘[t]he impossibility that one man should be able to perform all the great business of the State,’ the Constitution provides for executive officers to ‘assist the supreme Magistrate in discharging the duties of his trust.’”172
The second point is that the presidential oversight role is mandatory.173 This obligatory character is often obscured by the more prominent and ongoing debate over the scope of presidential power. Advocates of a strong unitary executive use the Take Care Clause’s requirement that the President ensure faithful execution of the laws to infer that he or she must have full power to control those implementing federal law.174 Those defending a more constrained account of presidential power counter by arguing that the fact that the Clause is phrased as imposing a duty counsels against reading it to support assertions of broad presidential authority.175 In short, both camps use the obligatory nature of the President’s oversight duty primarily as grounds for drawing conclusions about the scope of presidential authority.
But the mandatory character of the Take Care Clause is worth underscoring in its own right.176 This feature, combined with the Clause’s oversight phrasing, means that the Take Care Clause represents the clearest constitutional statement of a duty to supervise. Indeed, the Clause stands as a rare acknowledgement of affirmative duties in the Constitution. According to David Dreisen, this duty aspect is reinforced by the presidential Oath Clause, which not only includes a promise “to faithfully execute the Office of President,” but also a commitment to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” thereby “impl[ying] a . . . duty to try to prevent others from undermining it through maladministration of the law.”177
Exactly what such a duty to supervise was understood to mean is less clear, and the drafting history of the Take Care Clause sheds little light on this question. Earlier versions spoke of the President’s having power or authority to execute the laws, and the transformation into the ultimate duty phrasing occasioned little discussion.178 This suggests that the Framers did not attach particular significance to the President’s having an express duty to ensure law execution, but that could be because they had always envisioned the power to execute in similar obligatory terms.179 Much also turns on what faithful execution of the laws means—itself a source of debate.180 General agreement exists, however, that the Clause at least embodies the principle that the President must obey constitutional laws and lacks a general prerogative or suspension power.181
These two features of the Take Care Clause—provision for presidential oversight and language signaling that such oversight is obligatory—combine to imply a hierarchical structure for federal administration, under which lower government officials act subject to higher-level superintendence. Article II’s other provisions echo that hierarchy. A prime example is the Appointments Clause, with its differentiation between “Officers of the United States” and “inferior Officers,” the latter subject to appointment by (and thus implicitly subservient to) Heads of Department.182 This implication of hierarchical oversight is highlighted by current Appointments Clause case law, which defines inferior officers as “‘officers whose work is directed and supervised at some level’ by other officers appointed by the President with the Senate’s consent.”183 Similarly, as David Barron and Martin Lederman have argued, “[T]he textual designation of the President as the Commander in Chief . . . establishes a particular hierarchical relationship within the armed forces and the militia . . . at least for purposes of traditional military matters.”184 The Opinion Clause also conveys the importance of oversight, as the President’s power to require written opinions from principal officers both signals that the President was expected to play an oversight role and ensures that such officers cannot keep the President in the dark about how their departments are operating.185 To be sure, the Opinion Clause is permissive rather than mandatory; it stipulates that the President “may require” opinions rather than that the President must.186 But that phrasing does not undermine the hierarchical oversight dynamic signaled by the Clause so much as indicate that requesting opinions is just one method that the President can use to fulfill the Take Care supervisory duty.187 Finally, although the Vesting Clause of Article II less clearly addresses the shape of internal executive structure, this clause’s identification of “a President” in whom “[t]he executive Power shall be vested” makes clear that the Article II supervisory hierarchy takes a general pyramidal form, narrowing to an apex at the top.188
In short, despite leaving open most of the federal government’s administrative organization, Article II’s text signals that hierarchical supervision within the executive branch is an important structural principle. This hierarchical structure also has been central to the debate over the constitutional scope of presidential power. Unitary executive scholars claim that Article II’s hierarchy requires broad presidential authority to control all executive-branch decisionmaking or at least at-will presidential removal power over those executing federal law.189 But such a claim of broad presidential authority mistakenly elides the President’s right and duty to supervise law execution with the scope of such supervision.190 The structural principle of hierarchy entails that supervision up to the President must occur; it does not require that such supervision take the form of full presidential decisionmaking control. Only if supervision could not otherwise occur—a dubious proposition, given the variety of forms supervision takes today191—would such a broad claim of presidential power necessarily follow.
Similarly, although the Supreme Court has tied the Take Care duty closely to the President’s power to remove principal officers,192 it is not obvious that removal should play such a pivotal role. Removal is certainly one means of achieving higher-level oversight. But other structures for such supervision plainly exist, whether in the form of traditional mechanisms that enable review of decisions and policies, or more contemporary audit procedures to monitor performance and identify potential problems.193 The Court recently dismissed these mechanisms as “bureaucratic minutiae” lacking constitutional significance,194 yet in practice such bureaucratic minutiae are central to day-to-day implementation of the laws. Indeed, removal’s constitutional centrality seems to be a further manifestation of constitutional law’s rejection of systemic administration—bureaucracy—in favor of the individualistic model of a chief personally firing an assistant.195
Better clues for divining the Article II approach to supervision come from the Appointments Clause. It indicates that the supervision envisioned by Article II extends more broadly than just presidential oversight. The Clause’s distinction between principal and inferior officers reveals that supervision was expected to occur at lower administrative levels as well. Indeed, the Constitution’s express authorization of inferior officer appointment by courts or heads of departments, particularly combined with the Opinion Clause’s limited application to principal officers of the departments, makes clear that the President’s direct supervision was expected to be focused on the top of the administrative bureaucracy, at least outside of the military.196 This further reinforces the concept that supervision should not be equated with removal. Removal is a mechanism best targeted to the top of an agency, given the difficulty of tracing particular institutional policies to specific lower officials, well-entrenched civil service protections, and the public outcry that removal often triggers.197 At middle and lower levels, the other oversight methods detailed above, along with more indirect measures such as professional norms, agency culture, or reputational concerns, may be more effective mechanisms for controlling administrative behavior.198
Given the textual and structural emphasis on hierarchical oversight, some features of early administrative practice under the Constitution might seem surprising. In several contexts, presidential supervision and other forms of internal executive-branch oversight were quite circumscribed. One prominent example concerns district attorneys. “Before 1861, the district attorneys either reported to no one (1789 to 1820) or to the Secretary of the Treasury (1820 through 1861). Throughout this period, they operated without any clear organizational structure or hierarchy.”199 Although this lack of formal hierarchy did not preclude presidential supervision and direction, it certainly limited the occasions when such supervision would occur.200 A second example involves reliance on state courts and state officials for some federal law enforcement, a reliance that the Framers clearly anticipated.201 Harold Krent emphasizes that “Congress vested jurisdiction in state courts over actions seeking penalties and forfeitures, granted concurrent jurisdiction to state courts over some criminal actions, and assigned state officials auxiliary law enforcement tasks. . . . [These] state officials . . . were far removed from control of the executive branch.”202 A third instance is the widespread delegation of responsibility to nongovernmental actors, such as the use of private merchants as assessors in customs disputes and reliance on the Bank of the United States to control the money supply. Here again, presidential control and executive branch oversight were lacking.203
But there were also numerous administrative arrangements characterized by a fairly high degree of internal oversight. Jerry Mashaw’s recent excavation of early administrative practice emphasizes the central role of what he terms the “internal law of administration,” under which “higher-level officials instruct subordinates and through which they can call them to account for their actions.”204A key instance was the Treasury Department. Mashaw documents the way in which two early Secretaries of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, exercised close oversight of customs officials through daily correspondence and frequent circulars.205 A similar pattern of central oversight and instruction of field office personnel is evident in the Land Office context, albeit with a more uneven record.206 In addition, early statutes setting up the administrative departments emphasized internal oversight and stipulated that lower-level officials would be subject to higher-level “superintendence.” Thus, for example, the 1794 statute creating the Post Office provided that the Postmaster General “shall also have power to prescribe such regulations to the deputy postmasters, and others employed under him, as may be found necessary, and to superintend the business of the department, in all the duties, that are or may be assigned to it.”207 Notably, these statutes focused primarily on superintendence by principal officers, thereby reinforcing the point that hierarchical superintendence was not seen as coterminous with broad presidential control.208 Moreover, ensuring adequate government administration at the federal level was plainly a central concern of many Framers, with the Federalist Papers proclaiming that “the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.”209
The historical record thus demonstrates that hierarchical executive-branch oversight was understood to be an important accountability mechanism, particularly in the form of supervision of lower-level government officers by department heads and other top departmental officials. To be sure, such oversight was not uniformly required, nor was it the only means of ensuring effective government and checking overreach.210 Still, according to Mashaw, “[T]he consistency, propriety, and energy of administrative implementation was made accountable primarily to high-ranking officials. . . . These were the sources of instruction, interpretation, audit, and oversight that counted in the day-to-day activities of administrative officials.”211 Although such internal oversight sometimes took the form of review of individual decisions, it often had a more systemic and prospective cast, with the aim being to supervise statutory implementation and administrative performance generally.212 Frequently, moreover, such oversight was informal, taking the form of lower officials’ consulting with their superiors and their superiors’ seeking the President’s advice—and the President in turn requesting to be kept informed and consulted on departmental matters.213
One final aspect of historical practice worth considering is the development of the civil service. Beginning with the enactment of the Pendleton Act in 1883 and culminating in additional measures through the 1930s, federal workers gradually gained independence protections in hiring, tenure, and salary.214 The result today is a system criticized as limiting managers’ ability to fire employees or reduce salaries in response to poor performance.215 Development of the civil service therefore might seem at odds with an emphasis on internal supervision. In fact, however, the opposite conclusion is more accurate. The civil service arose as a response to the partisan hiring that began with Andrew Jackson and took hold over the course of the nineteenth century. Under this “spoils system,” control over government employment lay with the political party of the President.216 The emergence of the civil service supported a broader transfer of authority to administrative officials, with bureau chiefs gaining the ability to select personnel and exercise control over agency activities—a development that Daniel Carpenter has termed the emergence of bureaucratic autonomy.217 Indeed, the broadest reach of the federal civil service occurred at the heyday of modern federal administrative bureaucracies, with their characteristic of tight internal hierarchical control.218 Hence, development of the civil service helps to illuminate the tension that exists between presidential and political supervision, on the one hand, and internal agency supervision, on the other—a tension that surfaces today primarily in battles over agency politicization.219
Yet the fact that internal oversight and hierarchical supervision were viewed as important and necessary for effective and accountable government does not demonstrate that these administrative practices were understood to have a constitutional basis. The variation in administrative structures and use of administrative arrangements with limited oversight suggests that early Congresses did not consider hierarchical supervision from the President down to be a constitutional imperative across the board.220 Still, that variation leaves the possibility that internal executive-branch oversight was understood to have constitutional underpinnings, even if not required in all instances. Early Attorney General opinions offer some suggestions of such a view. Attorneys General disagreed over the extent of the President’s power to direct executive officers on matters statutorily entrusted to their discretion. In particular, William Wirt, who insisted that the President was limited to “see[ing] that the officer assigned by law performs his duty . . . not with perfect correctness of judgment, but honestly,” also concluded that if an officer had made a “corrupt” decision, “the President is constitutionally bound to look to the case” and take care that the officer be punished or removed.221 Wirt’s distinction of honest and corrupt decisions suggests that he saw presidential oversight as needed in order to police intentional misuse of governmental power rather than as a broader requirement, but his invocation of a constitutional obligation of presidential oversight even in this context is noteworthy.
Although the Take Care Clause and Article II’s provision for hierarchical oversight within the executive branch represent the most overt constitutional reference to a duty to supervise, an additional basis exists on which to infer such a constitutional duty. This approach identifies the duty to supervise as a necessary structural corollary of the delegation of governmental power—both legislative delegations to the executive branch and further subdelegation of authority from the top of an agency to lower officials. The connection between delegation and supervision is supported both by constitutional references to hierarchical supervision in delegation contexts and by structural principles that demand the accountability of governmental power. Like its Article II counterpart, this version of the duty to supervise puts prime emphasis on hierarchical supervision within the executive branch, but it potentially has a wider and more flexible import.
The hierarchical oversight model identified in Article II, under which lower-level officials act subject to higher-level oversight, can also be found in Article III. Article III echoes Article II’s distinction between principal and inferior officers by vesting the judicial power “in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts” as Congress may establish.222 Article III also expressly provides for Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction—suggesting a reviewing and oversight role for the Court, albeit one subject to “such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”223
A number of scholars have argued that Article III’s “coordinate requirements of supremacy and inferiority” give the federal judiciary a “pyramidal structure” and “hierarchical nature.”224 According to James Pfander, “Supremacy encompasses a power to oversee and control the judicial work of all inferior courts and tribunals in the judicial department,” such that Congress “cannot place lower courts entirely beyond the [Supreme] Court’s oversight and control.”225 Steven Calabresi and Gary Lawson push the point further, drawing on the uses of “supreme” and “inferior” in the Supremacy and Appointments Clauses to conclude that “inferior federal courts must be subject to the decisional supervision and control of the Supreme Court, which must be able to veto (reverse) any decision made by a subordinate court. Otherwise, they are not hierarchically inferior.”226 Although others are skeptical that Article III establishes such a strict requirement of subordinancy,227 general agreement exists that the Court cannot be denied review authority in all cases from the lower federal courts presenting constitutional questions.228 To paraphrase Henry Hart, there is thus a core of supervisory responsibility that cannot be denied without “destroy[ing] the essential role of the Supreme Court in the constitutional plan.”229
Even more significantly, assertions of some supervisory role for the Supreme Court are now supported by longstanding and contemporary practice. Since 1875 Congress has granted the Court broad power to review lower federal court decisions and has granted review of state court decisions rejecting federal law claims going back to the 1789 Judiciary Act.230 Congress has also long authorized the Court to adopt rules of procedure and practice that would bind lower federal courts, and the Court has asserted such a supervisory role for itself, including by insisting that lower federal courts follow its precedents.231 Hence, in practice both Congress and the Court have viewed Supreme Court supervision as a key aspect of the federal court system.
Interestingly, a similar hierarchical oversight structure is not present with respect to Congress. Instead, Article I proclaims the internal autonomy of the two parts of Congress by mandating separate passage of legislation by both houses and expressly providing that “Each House” shall choose its own officers, judge the elections and qualifications of its own members, determine its own rules, police and expel its own members, and keep its own journal.232 Although both the House and the Senate are granted distinct powers, only when it comes to authorizing adjournment are the two branches given express control over each other.233 More common is a model of reciprocal checking, seen perhaps most clearly in the distinct role each house plays in impeachment.234 Further, the Constitution nowhere specifies how each house is internally structured or how legislative officials are chosen below the highest level. The Court reinforced this structural independency in Nixon v. United States, where it held that determinations about which procedures conform to the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate “try” impeachments were for the Senate alone to make.235
This contrast between the hierarchical structure created for the executive and judicial branches and Congress’s internal equality is instructive. One explanation for the equal stature and independence of the House and the Senate is no doubt the disagreements between large and small states that led to Congress’s bicameral structure, as well as ongoing struggles at the constitutional convention over the two houses’ respective powers.236 Overt hierarchy or supervisory control by one house over the other might well have precluded the compromises over Congress that allowed the convention to reach agreement. But another likely factor is the manner in which Congress was expected to operate. Both houses are required to meet at the same place and take decisions collectively, with no allowance made for final legislative action other than through the process of bicameralism and presentment.237 By comparison, the Constitution expressly authorizes appointment of government officers and inferior federal tribunals, with a plain expectation that executive- and judicial-branch actors would not be limited to the President and the Supreme Court. Put differently, Congress was thought to be the unique legislative actor, whereas it was understood that there would be many executive officials and judges other than the President and the Justices of the Supreme Court.238
These differences in the branches’ organization suggest a hierarchical oversight structure as the constitutional companion of delegated implementation. When a branch is expected to operate through a number of government actors or institutions, the Constitution invokes a dynamic of supervision. Again, this is not to say that all implementation of federal law must be subject to full presidential or Supreme Court control. But the repeated supervisory theme evident in the Constitution, and embodied in longstanding practice, suggests recognition of oversight and internal hierarchy as important ways to control delegated federal power.
Further support for a relationship between delegation and supervision comes from accountability principles implied by the Constitution’s structure. Accountability, which is often identified as a core constitutional concern,239 is a broad and malleable concept. It suggests answerability, and, in public law, the focus is often on the answerability of governmental officials. But that focus still leaves key questions open: in particular, which officials, answerable to whom, through which mechanisms, for what actions or decisions, and measured by what metric?240 Not surprisingly, therefore, accountability surfaces in a variety of constitutional guises.241
Perhaps the most obvious guise is political or electoral accountability, with officials’ need to answer to voters—or to answer to other officials who answer to voters. The principle of political accountability runs throughout the Constitution’s structural provisions. It is evident in the stipulation of electoral selection for members of Congress and the President, political appointment of principal officers, and removal of officers via congressional impeachment.242 Indeed, these provisions reveal that political accountability itself takes a variety of forms—forms that have changed over time, involve different voters, and entail more or less immediate control.243 Political accountability concerns also underlie many constitutional doctrines, such as the nondelegation doctrine, the federalism anti-commandeering rule, and jurisprudence on the presidential removal power.244
Less textually prominent, but equally basic, is the principle of legal accountability. Legal accountability represents not just the constitutional commitment to “a government of laws, and not of men,”245 but also the core rule-of-law requirement that all exercises of governmental power be subject to constitutional limits that the political branches lack power to alter through ordinary legislation.246 The principle of legal accountability, which was famously articulated in Marbury v. Madison’s defense of judicial review and repeatedly underscored by subsequent judicial decisions, is often identified as entailing court enforcement.247 But the principle of adherence to governing law has broader reach and applies even when governmental actions lie outside the ambit of judicial scrutiny.248
A third form of constitutionally salient accountability is accountability through supervision and oversight—sometimes referred to as bureaucratic or managerial accountability.249 This form of constitutional accountability is far less commonly acknowledged, despite its embodiment in the textual references to supervision detailed above.250 Indeed, as Ed Rubin has noted, bureaucratic accountability is often portrayed as being at odds with political accountability, a growing phenomenon that, he argues, reflects resistance to the legitimacy of administrative government.251 A striking recent example is Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, in which Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, rejected the suggestion that either the presence of administrative oversight or the need for administrative expertise could justify the removal restrictions at issue:
One can have a government that functions without being ruled by functionaries, and a government that benefits from expertise without being ruled by experts. Our Constitution was adopted to enable the people to govern themselves, through their elected leaders. The growth of the Executive Branch, which now wields vast power and touches almost every aspect of daily life, heightens the concern that it may slip from the Executive’s control, and thus from that of the people. This concern is largely absent from the dissent’s paean to the administrative state.252
Such a suggestion of opposition between political and bureaucratic accountability is deeply misguided. Most critically, this argument fails to account for the reality of delegation that lies at the heart of modern administrative government. Delegation does not only run from Congress to the executive, with vast responsibilities and discretion delegated to administrative agencies. It also occurs within the executive branch, with the President and principal officers regularly assigning significant responsibility to lower officials.253 Such delegations to and within the executive branch necessitate a hierarchy of supervision in order for knowledge of official actions and policies to reach elected officials at the top of government. Furthermore, such internal administrative oversight is equally required to ensure that policies and priorities specified by elected leaders are actually carried out on the ground.254 Free Enterprise Fund acknowledges this last point, tying political accountability to internal presidential oversight: “The people do not vote for the Officers of the United States. They instead look to the President to guide the ‘assistants or deputies . . . subject to his superintendence.’ . . . [W]here [in the administrative system at issue] is the role for oversight by an elected President?”255
Internal supervision and oversight are also central to political accountability for other reasons: they allow the public to be informed about administrative actions and provide a mechanism for public participation in administration.256 Political accountability in this sense is less about electoral control, though awareness of agency actions allows stakeholders to exert pressure on elected officials to ensure that their interests are addressed.257 Instead, the focus is often on direct involvement by affected groups and other interested parties in administrative decisionmaking.258 Agency oversight structures help achieve transparency and opportunities for participation,259 for example, by requiring advance notice, creating disclosure presumptions, reviewing decisions for responsiveness to identified concerns, and monitoring of agency actions for adherence to agreed-upon norms and goals.
Supervision and oversight are similarly pivotal when it comes to legal accountability. While courts play a central role in enforcing legal constraints on government, a variety of factors can limit the effectiveness and availability of such judicial review.260 Internal supervision is free of many of these obstacles and thus plays a critical role in guaranteeing administrative adherence to governing legal requirements.261 Reliance on internal supervision and oversight to achieve legal accountability, instead of solely on courts, also minimizes the risk that enforcing legal constraints will undermine managerial control and accountability.262 Despite its resistance to according supervision much constitutional significance, the Court has noted the role that bureaucratic supervision plays in ensuring legal adherence. For example, it has emphasized the availability of internal administrative complaint mechanisms that can uncover and address constitutional violations in refusing to infer a Bivens right to challenge such violations in court.263 A number of scholars have gone further, underscoring the importance of internal administrative constraints in ensuring that delegated power is not wielded in an arbitrary fashion.264 And while the scope of delegated federal power is much vaster today, similar concerns with ensuring that government officials adhere to governing legal requirements have fueled bureaucratic supervision since the birth of the nation.265 Indeed, the Take Care Clause formally links supervision and legal accountability by tying supervision to faithful execution of the laws.266
Put starkly, bureaucratic and managerial accountability in the form of internal executive-branch supervision is an essential precondition for political and legal accountability given the phenomenon of delegation. Scholars debate whether the broad delegations that characterize modern administrative government can ever accord with the Constitution’s grant of legislative power to Congress and separation of powers principles. That debate will no doubt continue, but it has been eclipsed by reality; modern delegation is here to stay.267 The more pressing question today is how best to integrate the inevitable phenomenon of delegation into the Constitution’s structure. The answer, as I argue, lies in recognizing that delegation creates a constitutional imperative to ensure that the powers transferred are used in accordance with constitutional accountability principles. In short, delegation creates a duty to supervise delegated power.
This argument for a duty to supervise is more intuitively plausible with respect to legal accountability than with respect to political accountability. To begin with, the connection between supervision and adherence to law is familiar and already embodied in the Take Care Clause, as well as failure-to-train doctrine. Even if this link were not formally mandated, however, it is not difficult to see how internal supervision (through review mechanisms, training, and the like) can help ensure that specific agency decisions and actions adhere to legal requirements. To give just one example: The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) requirement of approval by a high-level DOJ official before U.S. attorneys can use wiretaps, contained in DOJ’s U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, plays an important role in enforcing constitutional and statutory limits on federal law enforcement.268 By contrast, the Constitution’s express requirements of political accountability—election of members of Congress and the President, and the political branches’ mandated role in appointment of principal officers—lack a similar formal tie to supervision. Moreover, the relationship between supervision and political accountability is more diffuse, and the Court has rejected the suggestion that political accountability requires political control of specific decisions.269 Indeed, substantial disagreement exists about the degree to which political oversight of administrative decisionmaking is even constitutionally required.270
Yet these factors have more to do with limiting the extent of supervision that political accountability may require than with denying that the two are constitutionally connected at all. The basis of this constitutional connection is, to be sure, functionalist and pragmatic; the claim is that supervision is in practice necessary to achieve political accountability in a world of delegation. But functionalist analysis is a core feature of separation of powers jurisprudence.271 If the principle of political accountability has any constitutional heft beyond its specific express constitutional manifestations—and the Court often has suggested it does272—then the functionalist and diffuse nature of a relationship between supervision and political accountability should not preclude its recognition.
As described, the link between delegation, accountability, and supervision is a structural one, but it can also be viewed as rooted in due process’s prohibition on arbitrary exercises of governmental power. This prohibition is often invoked as a central concern in delegation, with due process considered to require that delegations be structured so as to prevent delegated power from being used arbitrarily.273 Moreover, arbitrary action is understood to include not only unreasonable actions, but also actions that are at odds with constitutional accountability requirements.274 Other administrative mechanisms help prevent arbitrary decisionmaking, and judicial review of administrative action plays a starring role in this context as well.275 Due process, therefore, does not necessarily require internal executive-branch supervision to prevent arbitrary exercises of power. At a minimum, however, internal supervision is an important means of guarding against arbitrary use of governmental power, and one that becomes particularly important when judicial review is lacking.
The close connection between delegation and supervision makes it all the more surprising that the Court in 2001 strongly rejected the suggestion that agencies’ interpretation of the scope of their delegated authority may affect the constitutionality of the delegation.276 Yet even the earlier delegation jurisprudence, which did acknowledge the relevance of internal constraints on delegated authority, viewed any constitutionally required oversight in quite limited terms.277 Moreover, the need for supervision to preserve legal accountability, by preserving among other things the applicability of constitutional requirements to those wielding governmental power, is not now part of private delegation analysis.278 Current doctrine does suggest a link between delegation and supervision in one context: due process claims for failure to train.279 But the individual liability focus of such claims, reinforced by the Court’s imposition of the deliberate indifference standard, obscures recognition of supervision as a structural constitutional requirement of delegation.
The lack of development of the supervisory implications of delegation is puzzling. If delegation does indeed present such a challenge to the accountability of government, why hasn’t the linkage between delegation, accountability, and supervision received more judicial attention? One partial explanation for the courts’ failure to draw this connection is the availability of judicial review of specific administrative decisions. Rather than emphasizing internal supervision’s importance for ensuring accountability, courts have relied on external judicial scrutiny of specific actions to achieve this result. This reliance on judicial review in lieu of supervision is clearest with respect to legal accountability, given that the federal courts themselves lack direct electoral accountability. But judicial review also operates to reinforce political accountability by ensuring that agencies adhere to congressional instructions embodied in statutes.280 Indeed, the deference doctrines that courts have constructed to guide their review of administrative action can be viewed as efforts to mediate control of agency action by two political principals—Congress and the President.281
Interestingly, direct judicial review of administrative action is a modern phenomenon, developed only at the outset of the twentieth century under particular statutory schemes.282 Although such review was subsequently codified in the trans-substantive APA in 1946 and is now the norm, for long periods of the nation’s history such direct review was only narrowly available and limited to nondiscretionary or ministerial executive action.283 Yet the absence of direct legal challenges to administrative decisions did not mean that judicial review was lacking. Instead, courts employed other techniques to enforce legal constraints on agencies, in particular common-law suits for damages against individual officers.284 Individuals could also assert lack of legal authority or jurisdiction as a defense to suits by government officers to enforce the law.285
A striking feature of many contemporary administrative contexts is the extent to which judicial review of specific administrative decisions is absent or substantially curtailed. Further, several statutory and doctrinal developments—such as the creation of broad official immunity doctrines, the limited availability of Bivens actions, the substitution of the government as a defendant in tort suits under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the APA’s provision for direct suit against agencies, and indemnification provisions—have undercut individual federal officer suits as a method of ensuring accountability.286 Whether or not such limitations on judicial review are constitutional in their own right, they underscore the need to illuminate the constitutional linkages between delegation, supervision, and accountability that have previously lain dormant. Traditional judicial review of specific administrative actions is increasingly unable to substitute for internal supervision.
This Article has demonstrated that two alternative bases support recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise: the Take Care Clause and repeated suggestions of hierarchy in Article II; and the Constitution’s structural connection of delegation, supervision, and accountability, which can also be rooted in due process. But a critical piece of the analysis for such a duty is still missing: what exactly does such a duty to supervise entail, and does the scope of the duty to supervise differ according to the basis on which it is justified?
In large part, these two bases yield overlapping versions of the duty to supervise, reflecting the fact that both share two key precepts. The first is an emphasis on hierarchy and accountability. The duty to supervise identifies the oversight of lower-level exercises of governmental power by higher-level officials—and ultimately the President—as a central principle of constitutional structure. The core scope of the duty to supervise follows from this precept: the duty requires internal executive-branch supervision sufficient to ensure that this hierarchical structure is honored and that delegated power is used in accordance with governing requirements. Although the Weberian ideal connects hierarchy to bureaucracy and to detailed specification and review of lower-level decisionmaking by higher-level officers,287 nothing in the principle of hierarchy per se demands this type of higher-level control of subordinates. What the principle of hierarchy entails—and more importantly, what the hierarchical structures in the Constitution entail—is simply levels of authority, with lower-level officials controlled by and accountable to those higher up.288 In other words, the principle of hierarchy does not require a particular form of control.
Here is where the second key precept of the duty to supervise becomes central: the duty is a systemic and structural one. It requires systems and structures of supervision adequate to preserve overall hierarchical control and accountability of governmental power. Failures of supervision in discrete circumstances are not constitutional violations if the underlying system for supervision is sufficient and generally employed. Moreover, given the systemic and structural character of the duty to supervise, this duty is fundamentally possessed by government institutions even if it is asserted in suits against individual officers in charge. This systemic focus marks a significant difference from the individualistic cast of current constitutional doctrines implicating supervision.289 And it means that whether the duty to supervise is violated should not turn on the state of mind of particular officials, but rather on an objective assessment of the adequacy of the supervisory arrangements in place.
Exactly which types of supervisory systems satisfy the duty will no doubt depend on context, as is currently true for the duty to train.290 Additional supervision may be needed for agency actions that are critical to an agency’s functioning or that implicate important private interests.291 There may be occasions and contexts in which only one or a few methods of supervision will satisfy the duty. Much of the time, however, a variety of supervisory approaches should suffice, ranging from detailed review of specific actions to more general monitoring or guidance.292
The appropriateness of a variety of approaches provides a response to concerns that recognizing a duty to supervise is in tension with the contemporary governance trends toward more collaborative and decentralized administration, under which lower-level federal officials—along with stakeholders, private contractors, state and local agencies, and the like—exercise substantial discretion and control over the shape of government programs.293 The duty to supervise does not preclude such lower-level and nongovernmental discretion, provided that systems exist to ensure a minimum level of hierarchical oversight as well.294 That said, the duty to supervise does impose a constitutional barrier to administrative arrangements that diffuse governmental power to such a degree that such a minimal level of higher-level oversight is prevented. A potential example is found in privatization arrangements that involve private entities’ exercising significant control over program participants without any mechanism by which participants can obtain government review of decisions that centrally affect the government services participants receive.295 The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) detention and interrogation program provides another instance. A recent Senate report concluded that meaningful high-level executive-branch oversight of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was lacking due to the agency’s failure to provide the White House with full and accurate data on its interrogation activities.296 Given the contentiousness, questionable legality, and tremendous potential for harm associated with enhanced interrogation, a strong constitutional case can be made for close presidential supervision in this context.297
The acceptability of a range of oversight mechanisms also importantly differentiates the duty to supervise from unitary executive approaches. As noted above, strong unitary executive advocates insist on full presidential control of all executive-branch decisionmaking or executive officials.298 But insistence on such broad presidential supervision does not follow from the President’s supervisory obligation to ensure faithful execution of the laws.299 The general phrasing of “faithful execution of the Laws” seems to be satisfied by oversight that ensures overall or systematic legal adherence, rather than by presidential policing of individual decisions.300 Moreover, the systemic focus of the duty to supervise is shared by governing case law. The Supreme Court has upheld for-cause limits on presidential removal of an inferior officer, emphasizing the presence of “several means of supervising or controlling” the official’s powers and viewing the constitutional inquiry as whether there existed “sufficient control . . . to ensure that the President is able to perform his constitutionally assigned duties.”301 Similarly, in the Appointments Clause context, the Court has not required that an officer exercise no independent judgment or discretion to qualify as an inferior officer, instead simply requiring that an inferior officer’s work be “directed and supervised at some level” by other officers.302
The core meaning of the duty to supervise—a mandate of actual supervision or at least supervisory systems adequate to preserve overall hierarchical control and accountability of governmental power—does not vary with the constitutional basis from which the duty is derived. But because the delegation account derives the duty to supervise from a broader concern with avoiding arbitrary and unaccountable uses of governmental power, it might seem to be more easily satisfied by arrangements that achieve this goal even if actual supervision is minimal. For example, requirements of expertise-based decisions and professionalized staff can be an important safeguard against abuse of power, and including such requirements in statutes is a means by which Congress can control executive-branch decisionmaking. Yet it is harder to argue that professionalization satisfies the Article II version of the duty to supervise, particularly given that professional expertise can operate to insulate lower-level decisionmaking against direction and oversight from higher-level executive-branch officials.303 An even clearer instance of differences between the two bases for the duty comes from the use of judicial review to prevent abuse of delegated power, which seemingly foregoes internal supervision altogether in favor of external constraints.304 In reality, however, the difference between the two accounts on this score is not that great, given that the Article II-based duty does not require presidential or higher-level review of all lower-level decisionmaking and that the delegation account requires some hierarchical supervision.
The more salient difference between the two accounts concerns the individuals to whom the duty to supervise applies under each. The Article II version is limited to the executive branch and emphasizes presidential supervision in particular. Supervision within the executive branch is also the prime target from a delegation and accountability perspective, but this account potentially has a wider range of application. Political accountability, for example, should lead the supervisory duty to extend to Congress and not just to the President or the executive branch. Indeed, congressional supervision not only is necessary to ensure political accountability but can also be an important mechanism for reinforcing legal accountability by investigating allegations that agencies have violated governing law.305 Yet inferring a congressional duty to supervise executive-branch administration is hard to square with the separation of Congress and the executive branch that is central to the U.S. non-parliamentary system.306 On the other hand, extensive congressional oversight of the executive branch is a constant feature of contemporary federal administration, driven by politics and long periods of divided government.307 Perhaps the most relevant implication of the duty vis-à-vis Congress, therefore, is to sanction such extensive congressional oversight.
A more striking contrast relates to whether the duty to supervise extends to state and local governments. The Article II version is limited to the federal government, which is also the focus of the delegation and accountability approach—resting heavily as it does on federal separation of powers. But the legal accountability principles underlying the delegation basis for the duty, to the extent that they are rooted in due process prohibitions on arbitrary uses of governmental power, are not so limited.308 Whether this means that the same duty to supervise applying to federal executive officers also applies to state and local executive officers is a much harder question. Such a conclusion seems dubious, given not only the duty’s separation-of-powers basis but also the longstanding understanding that constitutional separation-of-powers principles do not apply to state governments.309 Still, the delegation-due process link suggests that supervision might be a relevant factor in assessing the constitutionality of state and local administrative arrangements in some circumstances.
The availability of judicial review of specific administrative actions as a means of policing agency action may help explain why federal courts have failed to develop the idea of a constitutional duty to supervise. But the more central reason is likely the concern that articulating and enforcing such a duty would exceed the judiciary’s proper role and violate constitutional separation of powers.310 Administrative arrangements for overseeing actions by government officials are deemed not to fall within the courts’ proper realm.311
A central question, then, is whether Article III or the separation of powers precludes judicial articulation and enforcement of a constitutional duty to supervise. This question requires a more nuanced assessment than the Court has so far provided. In some contexts, barriers to direct judicial enforcement of a duty to supervise are quite substantial, but these barriers do not apply across the board, and room may still exist for indirect enforcement through other constitutional or subconstitutional means. Regardless, judicial recognition of a central constitutional duty that the courts play a decidedly secondary role in enforcing would be valuable for the wider enterprise of constitutional interpretation. Such recognition would illuminate the complexities of how constitutional demands are met and how constitutional understandings are generated in the modern administrative state.
One set of potential separation of powers obstacles arises out of Article III. As noted earlier,312 the Court frequently invokes standing requirements rooted in Article III’s “case or controversy” requirement as the basis for rejecting efforts to challenge systematic aspects of administrative functioning. A separate Article III-based concern, which has been incorporated into current political question doctrine and which also serves as a barrier to federal-court jurisdiction, is that courts may lack judicially manageable standards for determining what the duty to supervise requires and when it is violated.313 Yet another barrier invoked to preclude judicial consideration of systemic administration is that such consideration would lead the courts to intrude in contexts that are reserved for the political branches. Again, this concern connects to the political-question doctrine, this time to the preclusion of federal-court jurisdiction when there is “a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department.”314
Article III standing requirements do not justify judicial refusal to recognize a duty to supervise. In fact, recognition of such a duty to supervise could alleviate rather than intensify the standing concerns associated with systemic challenges. These concerns typically center on lack of the requisite injury or causation relationship, with the Court at times skeptical that the systemic problem caused the discrete or particular injuries plaintiffs assert.315 Yet if the injury at issue is being subjected to inadequately supervised governmental action, then systemic improvements in supervision would be directly correlated to the claimed injury. Moreover, recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise can help to establish that being subjected to inadequately supervised action is, on its own, a constitutionally cognizable harm. A separate question is whether the structural nature of the duty to supervise means that its violation would represent a generalized grievance. But the Court regularly allows individuals to enforce general structural principles when they can show a distinct connection to the principle’s violation.316 Hence, even if the duty to supervise is such a general structural precept, individuals should have standing to allege its violation in a number of contexts when they can demonstrate this requisite connection, as when they are participants in the inadequately supervised institution or program at issue, or potentially when they would benefit from better supervised governmental action.317
By contrast, both political-question concerns—that judicially manageable standards for enforcing the duty to supervise may be lacking and that this duty is in any event textually committed to the political branches—represent more substantial obstacles to justiciability. Determining the prerequisites of constitutionally inadequate supervision, as well as identifying the forms of supervision that suffice to remedy violations, will often be quite difficult. Myriad forms of supervision exist, and the level of supervision required likely varies in different contexts. Judges are ill-equipped to identify which techniques are best suited for a particular administrative context, and they are not likely to have any particular expertise or competence in identifying when the supervision provided sinks below a minimally adequate threshold. In short, duty-to-supervise cases are likely to lack many of the indicia of judicially manageable standards, such as the ability to produce tests that have analytic bite, yield predictable and consistent results, avoid overextending the courts’ capacities, or guide remedial awards.318
The danger that courts will intrude on the constitutional responsibilities of the other branches in duty-to-supervise challenges is equally serious. As the Court put the point in Allen v. Wright, rejecting a challenge to the IRS’s implementation of charitable deduction limitations on standing grounds: “The Constitution . . . assigns to the Executive Branch, and not to the Judicial Branch, the duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’”319 Assessing claims that high-level agency officials failed to adequately supervise lower-level officials can involve the courts in second-guessing central features of executive branch functions. The scope and nature of supervision reflect policy choices about how to structure agencies and administrative regimes; an agency’s decision to pursue more discretionary and flexible implementation, for instance, will entail a different form of supervision than the choice to pursue a heavily rule-bound approach.320 Supervision is also intimately tied to policy priorities and an agency’s resource allocations. Moreover, the separation of powers concerns raised by such judicial scrutiny are even more acute when at issue is deficient supervision by the President or by Congress, as suggested by case law that limits the exercise of judicial process against the President.321 All of this supports viewing the duty to supervise as textually committed to the political branches in at least some contexts. Indeed, in Gilligan v. Morgan, the Court held as much with respect to military force, concluding that “[i]t would be difficult to think of a clearer example of the type of governmental action that was intended by the Constitution to be left to the political branches” or “in which the courts have less competence” than the “power of oversight and control of military force.”322
Yet neither of these concerns justifies deeming duty-to-supervise challenges categorically nonjusticiable. It is possible to envision some cases in which the failure of supervision is so extreme—for example, a complete lack of oversight in a context in which government employees have an obvious capacity to inflict great harm, or a longstanding and well-documented pattern of oversight failures and other conduct that falls below accepted norms—that identifying a violation of the constitutional duty to supervise could be manageable. Acute instances of institutional failure, like deep inadequacies in prison medical and mental-health services that have deadly consequences and go unremedied by state corrections agencies over many years, are an example.323 Moreover, other constitutional contexts exist in which the Court is quite reluctant to hold that governmental action crosses the constitutional line but nonetheless does not find the constitutional claim at issue to be nonjusticiable. Prime among these are challenges to legislation as unconstitutionally delegating legislative power324 or to spending measures as unduly coercive on the states.325 Instead of categorically excluding these challenges from the judicial purview, the Court has simply made clear that it will rarely find a constitutional violation or concluded that wherever the constitutional line on the merits may lie, a challenged measure crosses it.326
Similarly, enforcement of the President’s own Take Care duty or Congress’s supervision obligations seems most clearly assigned to the political branches. Gilligan signals a similar conclusion for supervision in the military context, and other areas may seem to be sufficiently entrusted to the political branches to justify the same result, with foreign affairs and national security coming particularly to mind. But this conclusion would not follow for most areas of federal administration, where the courts are regularly involved in reviewing executive-branch action and enforcing legal obligations.327 Moreover, the Court frequently has enforced duties imposed on high-level officials despite the risk of interfering with presidential instructions, even in rare cases against the President.328 In fact, the Court has shown itself to be quite willing to police the constitutionality of governmental structures on separation-of-powers grounds, even when neither of the political branches is complaining.329 Insofar as the duty to supervise rests on a delegation and due process basis, as opposed to representing just a distinctly presidential obligation rooted in the Take Care Clause, its nonjusticiability is yet harder to justify. As noted above, delegation and due process failure-to-train challenges are regularly entertained, although they are rarely if ever successful.
In practice, duty-to-supervise challenges seem likely to prove closely analogous to excessive-delegation claims. Courts will “almost never fe[el] qualified to second-guess Congress”330 or the President with respect to the appropriate form and scope of supervision. Put differently, the duty to supervise is primarily given over to the political branches to enforce:
Congress and the Executive supervise the acts of administrative agents. The powers of departments, boards and administrative agencies are subject to expansion, contraction or abolition at the will of the legislative and executive branches of the government. These branches have the resources and personnel to examine into the working of the various establishments to determine the necessary changes of function or management.331
Still, this leaves room for judicial prompting when the political branches fail to undertake the supervision for which they are better equipped, or even for more direct judicial enforcement in discrete contexts where courts are competent to act. The duty to supervise thus may well be judicially underenforced, but that does not make it categorically unenforceable.332
The real question is then not whether judicial articulation and enforcement of the duty to supervise would violate constitutional limitations on the federal courts’ role. Instead, it is whether such judicial articulation is appropriate and worthwhile, particularly given the likely limited scope of judicial enforcement and the fact that the duty to supervise is primarily a responsibility of the political branches. Put even more pointedly, what exactly does judicial articulation of the duty to supervise gain over current practice, in which supervisory obligations are judicially acknowledged in narrow circumstances and the political branches already put substantial emphasis on oversight and supervision?
Despite its limited enforceability, judicial articulation of a constitutional duty to supervise could yield two important benefits. The first, more immediate and practical, would be improvements in current doctrine and case law. In particular, forthright judicial acknowledgement of a constitutional duty to supervise could allow current doctrine to move away from its excessive resistance to cognizing issues relating to systemic administration and its flawed insistence on framing challenges to general administrative features solely in individualistic terms. Such acknowledgement would also allow courts greater room to enforce supervision requirements indirectly, through such subconstitutional means as administrative law. At a minimum, judicial recognition of a duty to supervise would create a counter to existing precedent suggesting that statutory measures such as the APA should be narrowly read to preclude systemic challenges. I explore these benefits in Part III, along with a more detailed account of what recognizing a constitutional duty to supervise might mean in practice.
The second benefit is more intangible and relates to the increasingly dominant role the courts play in constitutional interpretation in the United States.333 Ours is a world of judicial constitutional supremacy, with the Court recently reemphasizing its “primary role” in determining constitutionality: “[W]hen an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution, ‘[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’”334 To be sure, opportunities exist for constitutional interpretation by the political branches, but these opportunities are sometimes vanishingly thin.335 In a world in which enforcing the Constitution is seen as overwhelmingly the responsibility of the courts, assignment of constitutional questions wholly outside of the judicial branch too easily becomes equated with denying that those questions have any real constitutional basis.
Judicial articulation of a duty to supervise, even with limited direct enforcement, can help ensure that the constitutional status of the duty to supervise is acknowledged by all the branches. But this approach is not without risks of its own, in particular that the constitutional scope of the duty to supervise will be equated with its judicial manifestations.336 One way to counter this risk is for courts to indicate explicitly that their constrained enforcement reflects specifically judicial limitations that do not extend to the political branches.337 Alternatively, courts could expressly acknowledge that their enforcement of the duty to supervise takes an indirect form; it occurs largely through subconstitutional mechanisms and incentivizes greater supervision rather than mandating it.
Such transparency about the courts’ secondary role and their reliance on indirect mechanisms to enforce constitutional obligations would be a welcome development for constitutional law generally. The Supreme Court has been open about its use of statutory interpretation to address constitutional concerns, invoking the canon of constitutional avoidance in prominent cases with regularity.338 But it has been far more reticent in other contexts, most notably about the ways in which ordinary administrative law serves to address constitutional concerns.339 For example, courts developed the APA’s initially modest prohibition on arbitrary agency actions into a robust reasoned decisionmaking requirement and similarly strengthened the statute’s minimal rulemaking demands. A major factor underlying these transformations was constitutional concerns with unchecked agency power and the breadth of modern rulemaking. Yet the Court has never acknowledged this constitutional basis.340 Similarly, the Court has at times sought to incentivize greater agency attention to the constitutional dimensions of agency actions through deference doctrines and has indicated that adequate administrative proceedings can substitute for constitutionally mandated habeas review.341 But it has failed to identify these incentivizing efforts as a form of constitutional enforcement and has rejected the suggestion that agencies should be particularly sensitive to constitutional values in their decisionmaking.342
The net result is too limited an understanding of how constitutional demands are met, and constitutional understandings generated, in the modern administrative state. Failure to articulate administrative law’s constitutional underpinnings leads to a false perception of constitutional law as separate and distinct from other forms of law and of agencies as having little role as independent constitutional enforcers.343 Failure to acknowledge the complicated interplay among courts and agencies with respect to constitutional enforcement also makes it difficult to develop an account of the proper bounds of this relationship, particularly concerning the issue of when the courts should be primary constitutional interpreters and when instead they should play a secondary role. One of the benefits of the duty to supervise is that, as an instance in which primary responsibility for constitutional enforcement falls to the political branches and agencies, it puts these issues front and center.
Judicial articulation of a constitutional duty to supervise could yield real benefits. The difficult tasks that remain are to identify how a duty to supervise should be implemented in practice: what would such a duty look like, who would enforce it, and how would recognition of such a duty address the mismatch between current doctrine and contemporary administrative practice? The discussion that follows begins by examining the possibility of direct judicial enforcement in privatization contexts, institutional reform litigation, and Bivens actions. It then turns to examining the possibility of judicial enforcement of the duty through administrative law. Here, recognition of the duty could lead to a reframing of judicial analysis, allowing administrative law to reinforce supervisory obligations in a way that current doctrine precludes. Finally, this Part takes up the question of what enforcement of the duty to supervise might look like outside the courts, through presidential and congressional action.
As indicated earlier, judicial involvement often may be limited to acknowledging the existence of a constitutional duty to supervise, with direct enforcement left to the political branches. But there will be some contexts in which direct judicial enforcement may be appropriate. Extreme instances of supervisory failure are one such context. Three other instances, worth exploring in detail because they showcase the possibilities and obstacles to direct enforcement, are privatization, institutional reform litigation, and Bivens actions.
Delegation and due process are central concerns implicated by privatization. Privatization implicates delegation because many forms of privatization—in particular, instances when the government contracts with private entities to provide services to third parties or to manage government programs on its behalf—are best understood as instances in which the government is delegating government power to private hands.344 Privatization also implicates due process because often these private delegates have their own financial and institutional interests in the decisions they make about which services an individual receives or how programs will be run.345 In addition, such private decisions substantially affect whether these aspects of government operate in a consistent, non-arbitrary fashion and adhere to governing legal requirements. Yet as noted, the government’s private partners are frequently exempted from due process and other constitutional constraints.346
I have elsewhere proposed addressing the deficiency in the current constitutional treatment of privatization through a delegation approach that emphasizes the government’s duty to supervise its private delegates.347 Under this approach, when the government authorizes private entities to interact with third parties on its behalf, it would be required to provide adequate supervision of the actions of its private delegates or otherwise structure the powers it grants so as to ensure that constitutional limits on government power are preserved. The judiciary could directly enforce such supervision requirements by hearing challenges seeking invalidation of privatization arrangements as unconstitutional private delegations or challenges seeking direct application of constitutional constraints to private actors.
The challenge for courts will be to determine what qualifies as constitutionally adequate supervision. No doubt this determination would vary depending on the extent of control that a private entity wields over others and the significance of its determinations. But a core aspect of the supervision would likely be complaint or appeals systems through which individuals could obtain governmental review of private decisions that determine their access to government benefits or participation in government programs. Not only do such systems enable government oversight of private decisions that are taken on the government’s behalf, but they also preserve constitutional accountability by providing governmental action—the government’s decision on review—against which constitutional claims can be lodged.348 Adequate supervision might additionally necessitate requiring private entities to promulgate standards and procedures, both to regularize their decisionmaking and to better enable oversight. Alternatively, the government could itself detail how programs should operate and the criteria and procedures for benefit determinations. In instances where the benefits and services at stake are highly discretionary, so that no individual could demand individualized process if the program were implemented by the government directly, the duty to supervise might be limited to requiring government scrutiny of overall program functioning rather than review of specific decisions.349 And less government supervision should be required when program participants themselves exercise significant control over the benefits and services they receive, because less government power over others would then be delegated.
Such variability might raise a question about whether judicially manageable standards exist to implement the duty to supervise. However, the fact that this approach would be tied to instances of privatization should mitigate the manageability concern. Privatization contexts present distinct issues of self-interest and private control of governmental power. In addition, courts have the oversight and review structures of publicly run programs as a baseline against which to assess the adequacy of privatized arrangements. Moreover, private delegation and due process jurisprudence already identify the constitutional danger of public power being wielded over third parties for private gain, as well as the importance of government supervision in mitigating that risk. Although private delegation and due process precedent often have focused on formal oversight instead of the active oversight proposed here, moving from formal to active oversight is less draconian than asking courts to consider the adequacy of supervision when supervision is not currently part of their analysis at all.
Litigation involving publicly administered institutions presents a more complicated case for direct enforcement of a duty to supervise. As noted above, although framed in terms of violation of discrete constitutional and statutory rights, much institutional reform litigation is centrally concerned with improving how the government programs and institutions in question are systemically administered.350 Forthright recognition of a duty to supervise may therefore seem particularly fitting and would allow such litigation to directly target those systemic administrative features leading to violations of individual rights. Indeed, such recognition could have real benefits. For one, it could bridge the gap that some claim exists between the violated right and judicially ordered relief in institutional reform cases, because requiring reformed administrative structures is closely tied to remedying violation of a constitutional duty to supervise. Acknowledging a duty to supervise could also mitigate doctrinal obstacles such as standing, since plaintiffs should be able to call upon a broader range of evidence to demonstrate injury and causation due to an allegedly unconstitutionally supervised institution than if they had to demonstrate violation of a discrete right. Relatedly, focusing on general supervisory failures might enable broader and more effective remedies than reforming a discrete area where problems have emerged, and, at a minimum, will avoid the need to demonstrate that unconstitutional actions by street level officials are attributable to policy or actions of higher-level officers.351
These benefits of a duty to supervise in the institutional reform context are, however, double-edged; they demonstrate the broad potential reach of enforcement of a duty to supervise in this context. Uncabined by a requirement of privatization or other threshold constraints, such a duty could encompass a large swath of public administration, including many government programs outside of the traditional institutional settings in which institutional reform litigation previously has been focused. The risk of intruding on political branch prerogatives thus appears significantly greater, as does the likelihood of exceeding judicial competency, particularly the courts’ ability to render coherent and consistent decisions. Another major complication is that institutional reform litigation overwhelmingly involves state and local institutions, requiring courts to assess how, if at all, the duty to supervise applies outside of the federal government.
To be sure, these dangers are easy to exaggerate. Over time, courts would likely develop context-specific standards for what constitutes adequate supervision, as scholars maintain has occurred in current institutional reform litigation.352 In addition, although a duty to supervise may have a broader range of application, the remedies it supports would likely be a step removed from day-to-day administration, with courts requiring officials to devise plans and structures to oversee failing public institutions more effectively instead of imposing detailed requirements on how these institutions operate. If so, then enforcing a duty to supervise might be in line with remedial trends in institutional reform litigation, under which courts are giving public officials more discretion to remedy identified institutional failures with remedial orders stipulating performance goals instead of mandating operational details.353
Nonetheless, the potential intrusion simply from greater instances of court involvement and the difficulty entailed in assessing what constitutes adequate supervision in different institutions and programs—not to mention the courts’ increasing resistance to undertaking reform of public institutions—suggests a limited role for direct enforcement of the duty to supervise in institutional reform litigation. Instead, here the duty to supervise may work best as a supplement to other constitutional and statutory claims in institutional contexts where there is substantial evidence of systemic failure. Recognition of even a limited duty to supervise in these contexts could still prove quite important. Doing so renders explicit an assumption that underlies institutional reform litigation but is rarely voiced directly: ensuring that government institutions are adequately supervised and managed is a crucial element of honoring constitutional and statutory rights in an administrative state. Acknowledging the duty to supervise therefore also helps to justify judicial authorization of systemic remedies. For instance, acknowledging that all prisoners have a right to be housed in institutions with adequately supervised medical and mental care facilities provides an additional basis for allowing prisoners who have not yet suffered Eighth Amendment violations to sue and for granting broad systemic relief in Plata, where the record demonstrated widespread failure in the California prisons’ provision of medical and mental care.
Bivens actions are a third potential context for direct judicial enforcement of the duty to supervise. Indeed, Bivens actions represent the context in which supervisory obligations of federal officials most frequently surface today, with Iqbal being only one of several actions alleging supervisory failure by high-level officials in the national-security context.354 Nonetheless, Bivens actions are a poor vehicle for asserting the duty to supervise. Part of the reason is the Supreme Court’s recent resistance to addressing supervisory deficiencies in the Bivens context.355 But the bigger problem lies with a feature that goes to the heart of Bivens actions: the focus on individual officers and individual liability rather than government institutions. This feature—embodied in the Court’s rejection of efforts to bring Bivens actions against government agencies, the prohibition on respondeat superior, and the fact that Bivens actions seek only money damages356—fits poorly with the systemic and structural orientation of the duty to supervise. As a result, incorporating the duty to supervise would entail a fundamental reorientation of Bivens actions, potentially undermining the availability of Bivens actions to those seeking to obtain compensation for constitutional violations committed by individual federal officers.357 Given that the APA provides a right of action through which claims of duty-to-supervise violations often can be brought in federal administrative contexts—suits that are brought against agencies directly and are therefore institutional rather than individual in nature—there is little reason to try to use Bivens to target failed supervision.358
Administrative law will often be a better mechanism than direct constitutional enforcement for implementing the duty to supervise in publicly administered programs and institutions. In many ways, administrative law seems ideally situated to enforce a duty to supervise with respect to federal agencies. The ostensible statutory, regulatory, and common law bases of administrative-law doctrines allow room for interbranch dialogue and political-branch tailoring even when administrative law is serving, as it often does, as a constitutional surrogate.359 Statutory and regulatory enactments already reflect attention to supervision; frequently, they set up mechanisms for oversight and internal agency review.360 Judicially developed administrative law is in turn built around the need to enforce legal requirements while acknowledging agencies’ primacy in law implementation. In this way, administrative law better accommodates executive-branch discretion than direct constitutional enforcement. For example, the standard administrative law remedy for an identified violation is a remand to the agency; even the invalidation of administrative statutory interpretations as contrary to law can result in a remand so that agencies can rethink their regulatory policy in light of statutory demands.361 Moreover, the target of administrative review is expressly institutional, with the APA affording review only of actions by agencies and not individuals.362
Administrative law therefore offers an important means by which courts could require agencies to pay greater attention to their supervisory obligations without assuming responsibility for enforcing those obligations in the first instance. The vehicle would be the standard APA challenge to agency action as arbitrary and capricious, but the agency action being challenged would be internal supervision mechanisms such as plans, oversight arrangements, program review structures, and the like. Yet efforts to use administrative law in this fashion would run into significant obstacles in the absence of changes to current doctrine. In particular, the Court would need to allow systemic aspects of administration to come under judicial review and could no longer insist that only discrete agency actions qualify as final agency action subject to challenge under the APA—or Congress would need to amend the APA to make clear that systemic aspects of administration can be challenged in court.363
Insofar as agencies would now need to explain and justify broader programmatic, structural, and policy choices as well as specific actions, using administrative law to enforce the duty to supervise risks worsening the burdens that administrative law judicial review already imposes on agencies—burdens that many administrative law scholars argue already severely constrain agency action.364 On the other hand, focusing on agency oversight structures and supervision might also justify limitations or deferral of judicial review in some circumstances where judicial review currently occurs. Such a focus is consistent with greater insistence on exhausting administrative remedies, so that agency supervision mechanisms can be allowed to work. Similarly, courts should give agencies more leeway to issue informal guidance without running afoul of the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, on the grounds that such guidance is a crucial part of agency efforts to fulfill their internal oversight responsibilities and curtail lower-level discretion.365 And courts could incentivize greater agency oversight efforts by deferring more strongly to agency decisions that demonstrate high-level internal agency oversight.366 Courts could also defer substantially to specific agency determinations when those determinations represent implementation of a general plan or policy that an agency has adequately justified.
As a result, incorporating a duty to supervise into administrative law could produce a fundamental reorientation of judicial review of agency action. Under this reframing, judicial review of agency action would become the inverse of the current administrative model. Rather than targeting specific decisions or actions, judicial review would scrutinize programmatic structures and broader aspects of agency policy and functioning.
A clearer sense of how administrative law enforcement of a duty to supervise might work in practice can be gleaned by examining what such an approach would entail in the contexts of federal-state cooperative programs, crisis governance, and current debates over presidential oversight.
As mentioned, federal administrative oversight increasingly represents the key mechanism of control over state implementation of federal law.367 The availability of such federal oversight at a retail level varies widely. For example, state agency determinations that an individual applicant is not medically disabled and not entitled to social security disability benefits are reviewed by federal administrative law judges if the applicant appeals.368 By contrast, in the education context, federal law requires that local school districts provide hearings at which students and parents can challenge unfavorable decisions relating to education disability services and further provides that states must have a complaint process at which local decisions can be challenged. But the federal Department of Education, as part of its role in distributing federal grants, investigates only complaints of discrimination and oversees state and local performance generally.369 In the environmental context, the EPA has authority to review, reject, and override specific state permitting decisions, but it also enjoys broad discretion over whether to exercise this authority.370
Instead of reviewing individual determinations, federal agency oversight predominantly takes a broader, more systemic cast. Governing federal statutes require federal agencies to review and approve state implementation plans and processes before states can receive federal funds or exercise regulatory authority; federal agencies are also required to oversee agency implementation generally once approval is granted.371 Although statutes specify criteria that must be met prior to approval, federal agencies wield substantial discretion in determining when those criteria are met and even more discretion in determining whether approval should be rescinded.372 Recently this discretion was prominently on display when the Department of Education granted waivers to forty-three states and other jurisdictions exempting them from basic requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.373 In some instances, these federal agency oversight decisions take the form of discrete decisions and agency rules that are subject to judicial review, but quite often judicial review is unavailable.374 Realistically, moreover, agencies almost never try to rescind state authority or significantly cut funding.375
Some scholars suggest that cooperative federalism programs may be unconstitutional because they “essentially transfer broad and effectively unsupervised responsibility for the administration of federal law to state agencies.”376 Insofar as this claim rests on the unitary executive view that the President must be able to exercise direct formal control of all federal law enforcement, it goes too far. As discussed earlier, this claim for direct presidential control overreads the constitutional requirement of adequate supervision, which could take a variety of forms, as mandating the possibility of complete presidential direction.377 In addition, there are questions as to whether state agencies are best viewed as implementing federal or state law (or some combination thereof) and whether an agency head’s statutory power to approve proposed state implementation plans suffices to meet constitutional requirements for the selection of inferior officers.378
The problem is therefore less that insufficient formal mechanisms exist for control of state implementers, but more that federal agencies do not wield the available mechanisms adequately. Put differently, the real issue is enforcing federal agencies’ constitutional duties to supervise their state partners. Courts should not play a major role here, given the extent to which federal oversight of state implementation turns on agency resources, priorities, and determinations about how best to realize programmatic goals.379 Courts will need to accord broad deference to agency choices about the best mechanisms for state oversight. Still, courts can play an important function by requiring federal agencies to explain their oversight choices or justify widespread practices of failing to enforce statutory or regulatory requirements on their state partners. In the context of waivers, for example, courts could require agencies to explain the policies regarding circumstances under which waivers will be granted and the grounds on which they may be rescinded.380
A similar emphasis on internal agency processes appears to be well-suited to address concerns raised by crisis governance. Here, too, judicial involvement will be highly limited, given time pressures, statutory constraints, and general unwillingness to sue, and courts will defer strongly when suits do arise.381 Congressional and other forms of oversight are also often minimal. Internal constraints and internal oversight will therefore be the core mechanisms for ensuring that the duty to supervise is met.
The urgency of agency decisions in crisis governance contexts means that they often are subject to substantial high-level executive-branch oversight. Accounts of recent crisis governance decisions, such as determinations by the Federal Reserve and the Department of the Treasury on how to respond to bank failures or the authorization of different national security actions ranging from drone attacks to communication interception programs, reveal heavy involvement by agency heads, political appointees, and the White House.382 Yet as crisis governance regimes become a more familiar aspect of agency operations, there is a risk that such high-level oversight will dissipate. Moreover, the nature of crisis decisionmaking creates a danger of inconsistent and arbitrary determinations that ad hoc internal supervision may not alleviate.383 And high-level officials may be more inclined to support actions that push the limits of agency authority in response to immediate problems than career officials with a longer-term perspective.384
The inevitable pressures of crisis governance contexts suggest there are benefits to encouraging agencies to develop strong decisionmaking structures or to address key issues about the scope of their authority ahead of time. Public guidelines developed by Treasury officials have helped provide clarity and consistency to the Department’s Capital Purchase Program, under which the federal government bought substantial equity stakes in banks.385 In a similar vein, the Dodd-Frank Act requires the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to promulgate rules that would govern its decisions to put banks deemed too big to fail into receivership.386 Scholars have proposed that better administrative oversight systems are critical to ensure that national security data collection is accountable.387 And current proposals to address concerns raised by the U.S. government’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists center on constructing governing rules and strong internal processes to guide specific drone decisions.388
Courts could use administrative law to encourage such proactive supervisory actions. For instance, they could allow individuals greater room to challenge agency failure to promulgate rules or issue guidance when judicial review of specific agency decisions is likely to be unavailable. Alternatively, courts could make clear that they will defer more to agency actions undertaken with strong internal processes when those actions are reviewed ex post. The Supreme Court recently suggested such an approach outside of the administrative-law context, in Boumediene.389 Needless to say, such efforts to tie administrative-law review to general aspects of agency functioning, rather than to the substantive merits of particular agency decisions, are at odds with current doctrine. But these approaches could be justified as ways to ensure that agencies adhere to the duty to supervise in crisis governance contexts.
Finally, it is worth considering how a duty to supervise might affect administrative law’s treatment of presidential oversight. The most frequent judicial response to presidential oversight of administrative decisionmaking is to ignore it. Agencies rarely acknowledge presidential involvement in explanations of agency decisions, and courts rarely invoke it on their own.390 This approach is in some ways a sensible compromise; it allows presidential oversight to occur but guards against excessive presidential influence by requiring agency decisions to be independently defensible. It also avoids the difficult task of having courts determine which political influences are acceptable and which are not—a determination that risks politicization of the judiciary and pushes the limits of its institutional competence.391 But the lack of transparency about presidential involvement undermines public awareness of the realities of administrative decisionmaking and can have an insidious influence on supposedly apolitical agency processes.392 And for my purposes here, opacity about presidential involvement provides little guidance about when such influence is an appropriate manifestation of the duty to supervise and when it crosses the line. Such a line is unquestionably difficult to draw, and determining where it lies will largely be a responsibility of the political branches. Yet some judicial engagement on the proper bounds of presidential oversight seems to be a necessary corollary of acknowledging a constitutional duty to engage in internal executive-branch supervision.
Administrative law again appears to be the best vehicle for courts to address presidential oversight—for example, in suits challenging presidentially directed agency policies as unauthorized or arbitrary.393 Using administrative law allows courts to play a secondary policing role instead of serving as the primary articulators of the shape that presidential oversight should take. In addition, administrative law’s capaciousness and common-law character allow for more flexibility in addressing different instances of presidential oversight and greater responsiveness to political-branch views.394 Once more, an administrative law approach to the duty to supervise would require changes in current administrative law doctrines, particularly insofar as the presidential policy involves nonenforcement. Suits challenging overall policies absent specific enforcement actions currently run into ripeness and finality barriers; failures to enforce are presumptively nonreviewable, and courts often are reluctant to order agencies to formulate policy even when statutorily required.395 Notably, however, courts often appear to respond to presidential involvement in their application of administrative law scrutiny without being open about doing so or offering a justification for their approach.396 As a result, although acknowledging the duty to supervise might entail changes in stated doctrine with respect to presidential administration, it may not require much change in current administrative-law practice.
The discussion so far has focused on the forms and limits of judicial enforcement of the duty to supervise. Yet enforcement of the duty will often fall to the President, executive branch, and Congress. A full account of the duty’s implementation therefore requires examination of what such political-branch enforcement would look like.
Actual supervision of administration is, of course, ubiquitous in the political branches; it is a constant focus of centralized presidential staff and congressional hearings as well as agency managers.397 Moreover, executive-branch and congressional oversight centrally focuses on policing the quality of agency supervision by investigating and responding to agency managerial failures.398 Political-branch enforcement of supervisory responsibilities is thus already a common phenomenon. The question here is therefore whether and how recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise might alter the nature of such enforcement.
The Obama Administration’s recent immigration enforcement initiatives offer an interesting context in which to assess this question. In 2012, the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security adopted a policy of using prosecutorial discretion to defer immigration enforcement actions against several million individuals brought here illegally as children who have done well academically and avoided criminal involvement.399 In November 2014, President Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson expanded this policy and announced a further deferred-action program, this one aimed at parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.400 Under both programs, eligible individuals must apply for deferred action status, but if it is granted, they are protected from deportation for three years and granted work authorization.401 The new actions are estimated to shield another five million people from deportation.402
On the one hand, such broad programs, provided on a prospective and essentially categorical basis, might seem to cross the line from legitimate nonenforcement discretion to unconstitutional suspension of the immigration laws and thus violate the President’s Take Care Clause obligation.403 In line with this view, Zachary Price has argued that constitutionally legitimate exercises of enforcement discretion must occur only in a case-by-case manner or on the basis of clear statutory authorization, with categorical and prospective nonenforcement approaches, such as those adopted in the recent immigration actions, being unconstitutional.404
Yet from another perspective, by openly stating a generally applicable policy and then instituting an administrative scheme to implement that policy, the President and DHS Secretaries Napolitano and Johnson were actually fulfilling their constitutional duties to supervise. Given current budget and personnel constraints, full enforcement of the immigration laws is simply not a possibility.405 Hence, the alternative to the Obama Administration’s approach is not full enforcement, but rather case-by-case discretionary decisions by low-level officials over which meaningful supervision is very hard to exercise. The public articulation of the administration’s policies ensured that enforcement choices would be more transparent, thereby enhancing political accountability, as well as more consistent across the nation and among immigration personnel.406 Precluding prospective and categorical articulation of immigration enforcement policy and priorities is tantamount to insisting that nonenforcement decisions be made by lower-level officials, a requirement as much at odds with constitutional structure as a presidential dispensation power.
Acknowledging a constitutional duty to supervise thus indicates that presidential efforts to direct nonenforcement on a categorical, prospective, and transparent basis can have strong constitutional roots.407 And executive-branch implementation of the duty to supervise seems likely to result in greater and more overt instances of presidential direction. Importantly, however, recognizing the duty does not require acceptance of all instances of presidential direction and administration.408 Given that a core part of the duty to supervise is ensuring legal accountability, such presidential policies must accord with governing statutory requirements or have a basis in the President’s constitutional authority.409
In addition to the President and the executive branch, Congress also plays a role in enforcing the duty to supervise. Congressional oversight of administration is already quite energetic, as evidenced by the dramatic rise in congressional investigations over the last few decades.410 This rise is tied to the phenomenon of divided government, when one party controls one or both houses of Congress and that party does not control the White House. In a regime of divided government, investigations of executive branch failures are a major way for one party to score political points.411 It is hard to believe that recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise would trigger more congressional oversight of agencies and the executive branch than already occurs simply because of politics.
Instead, the intriguing possibility here is whether such recognition might affect the focus and potentially the rhetoric of congressional oversight. Congressional investigations tend to focus on discrete high-profile scandals or government breakdowns, rather than on ongoing systemic administrative failures.412 One systemic administrative issue needing congressional action concerns the recruitment and retention of a skilled federal workforce and particular talented managers. Scholars repeatedly identify problems in the federal government’s management, ranging from increased politicization to lack of capacity in critical areasto recruitment and retention in the senior executive service, which largely contains high-level career managers.413 Taken seriously, recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise should yield sustained congressional attention to the development of adequate managerial capacity in the executive branch.
Recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise is also particularly relevant to debates over government funding. Recent years have witnessed a number of battles over the nation’s budget and debt ceiling. In 2013, this conflict led to a sixteen-day shutdown of the federal government when Congress did not enact the appropriation bills needed to keep the government running.414 These clashes over government funding were deeply political and ideological, with Democrats and Republicans deeply divided on budgetary priorities, including within their own ranks.415 The Constitution entered the debate in a limited fashion, primarily in relation to the debt ceiling crisis and the President’s powers.416 Largely absent was discussion of the constitutionality of Congress’s actions or of whether Congress had a constitutional obligation to fund the government so it could meet its statutorily mandated responsibilities.417
Yet the duty to supervise arguably requires Congress to provide adequate funds for the government to function. On this view, Congress can alter the government’s substantive responsibilities, but it violates the duty if it leaves these responsibilities in place but sabotages the government’s ability to meet them.
An account of the duty to supervise as mandating government funding is certainly contestable. The power of the purse—and thus the power to deny funding—is one of Congress’s core constitutional powers.418 Requiring Congress to provide adequate funding would be dramatically at odds with the endemic feature of budget constraints in government and would be at odds with contemporary legislative practice in which appropriations riders have replaced substantive enactments as the means for Congress to control the executive branch.419 As a result, the notion that Congress must provide funding may be limited to the extreme circumstances of a government shutdown or funding crisis. Still, a critical point to bear in mind is that Congress is the branch charged with enforcing the duty to supervise with regard to itself; no court will intervene to do so. It is therefore up to Congress to determine what level of funding is constitutionally required. Identifying a connection between the duty and government funding is perfectly compatible with acknowledging Congress’s preeminent role in appropriations.
Constitutional law’s current resistance to incorporating systemic administration is doubly mistaken. It creates a mismatch between the realities of government and our most fundamental legal framework for controlling governmental power. At the same time, it obscures the importance the Constitution actually assigns to administration in the form of supervision. The neglect of systemic administration in constitutional doctrine is justified as necessary to ensure that the federal courts stay within their constitutionally proper sphere. Yet judicial recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise need not entail a dramatic expansion in judicial review or intrusion into the constitutional responsibilities of the political branches. Instead, such recognition can be accomplished through mechanisms that largely assign to the courts a secondary enforcement role.
Indeed, one of the most serious failings of constitutional law’s current exclusion of administration is that it has stymied development of more flexible models of constitutional interpretation and enforcement. By insisting that the federal courts’ purview is simply discrete governmental actions and not the wider administrative contexts in which these actions occur, the current approach also casts judicial constitutional enforcement as operating independently of the wider contexts. Even if this portrayal were ever true, it would be false in the world of the modern administrative state. Instead, courts are dependent on administrative structures and oversight to ensure that judicial constitutional interpretations are actually enforced. And in this world, administrative agencies, along with Congress and the President, play crucial roles in generating constitutional understandings that reflect the needs of contemporary society.
Acknowledging the constitutional status of administration is thus a crucial step in the development of models of constitutional interpretation and enforcement that better accord with the reality of administrative constitutionalism. Doing so will require changes not only in existing doctrine, but also in the reigning image of constitutional law. Constitutional law in the modern administrative state does not have hard edges allowing for a clear demarcation between that which is constitutional and that which is not. Rather, constitutional law today is a porous entity. Constitutional requirements mingle with numerous forms of subconstitutional law, often functioning more as background norms than as direct commands. This means that constitutional implementation will centrally involve other governance institutions. It also means that courts will inevitably engage in law creation as they seek to enforce constitutional concerns indirectly. Instead of insisting on an image of constitutional law that misleadingly excludes administration, courts need to turn to the task of crafting a constitutional law that properly reflects the contemporary administrative age.