The Decision of 1946: The Legislative Reorganization Act and the Administrative Procedure Act

Joseph Postell
Volume 28
,  Issue 2


In the summer of 1946, Congress enacted two laws that served as the foundation of the modern administrative state. One of them is well-known to scholars of administrative law; the other, to scholars of Congress. The first, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”),1Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, Pub. L. 79-404, 60 Stat. 237 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 5 U.S.C.). established procedural requirements for administrative rulemaking and adjudication and outlined the scope of judicial review of administrative decisions. The second, the Legislative Reorganization Act (“LRA”),2Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, Pub. L. 79-601, 60 Stat. 812 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 2 U.S.C.) (repealed 1995). restructured Congress’s committee system and dedicated resources to enable Congress to engage in “continuous watchfulness” over the bureaucracy.3Id. § 136. Their enactment less than two years after the death of President Franklin Roosevelt and the conclusion of World War II marked the end of a period of contestation between Congress and the President over both the legitimacy and the control of the modern administrative state.

Given the centrality of the APA to the functioning of the modern administrative state, and the importance of the LRA to how the modern Congress functions, it is surprising that these two laws are rarely considered in conjunction. The timing of their enactment suggests that members of Congress were not considering them as isolated or separate reforms. However, there are two exceptions to this neglect. Professor David H. Rosenbloom’s Building a Legislative-Centered Public Administration argues that the question that animated both the APA and the LRA in 1946 was: “Whose [b]ureaucracy [i]s [t]his, [a]nyway?”4David H. Rosenbloom, Building a Legislative-Centered Public Administration: Congress and the Administrative State, 1946–1999, at 14 (2000). Congress answered that question, he concludes, by affirming that it was Congress’s bureaucracy: “Congress’s effort to redefine its constitutional position vis-à-vis federal administration in 1946 relied heavily on the idea that agencies should operate and be treated as extensions of the legislature.”5Id. at 23. Congress, in other words, declared itself to be the supervisor and controller of the administrative state. It accepted the delegation of many of its former responsibilities to administrative agencies, and focused on controlling agency power rather than limiting it.6David H. Rosenbloom, Whose Bureaucracy Is This, Anyway? Congress’ 1946 Answer, 34 PS: Pol. Sci. and Pols. 773, 774 (2001) (“[B]y 1946, the members [of Congress] accepted delegation as an unavoidable necessity.”); see also David H. Rosenbloom, 1946: Framing a Lasting Congressional Response to the Administrative State, 50 Admin. L. Rev. 173, 180–81, 187 (1998). In addition, Professor Joanna Grisinger has explained that both the APA and the LRA “reflected Congress’s fundamental uneasiness that bureaucrats had become the primary makers of law and policy in the modern state.”7Joanna L. Grisinger, The Unwieldy American State: Administrative Politics Since the New Deal 109 (2012). The goal of the LRA, Professor Grisinger argues, was to “restor[e] Congress to its rightful place of primacy over the administrative state.”8Id. at 111.

The promise of Congress’s work in the summer of 1946, however, was largely unfulfilled. Both the APA and the LRA have operated very differently in practice than theoretically intended. Subsequent developments in Congress have altered and weakened the control over bureaucracy anticipated in the LRA. In addition, the APA has functioned differently in practice than the members of Congress who enacted it intended. This Article aims to describe the connection between these two important statutes as well as the subsequent developments that altered the “Decision of 1946” in practice.

The description and the argument of this Article take place in five parts. Part I profiles the Seventy-Ninth Congress that enacted both the APA and the LRA, and briefly describes the timeline of both laws’ enactment in the summer of 1946. Part II summarizes the arguments and debates surrounding the passage of the APA, emphasizing the assumption of many members that it was an initial first step towards limiting the administrative state that had emerged over the previous decades. Parts III and IV form the heart of this Article. Part III thoroughly examines the hearings and debates that led to the LRA’s enactment, focusing particularly on how members of Congress sought to position the institution in relation to the administrative state it had just sanctioned in the APA. Part IV describes the LRA’s failure to live up to its promise, and how subsequent developments in Congress thwarted the ultimate design of the law. It also describes in brief the story of the disjunction between the APA as originally enacted and its contemporary application—a story well-known to most administrative law scholars. This Part explains how the decision Congress made in the summer of 1946 to accept but restrain the administrative state through congressional oversight failed in the years following the decision.

Finally, in Part V, this Article explores the implications of the failure of the 1946 decision to take hold. The summer of 1946 marks a major settlement and reframing of the relationship between Congress and the New Deal administrative state. It represents a time when members of Congress, across the ideological spectrum, came to a settlement over the legitimacy of the New Deal agencies, and sought to constrain those agencies through administrative procedure and (primarily) legislative control. As the goal of expanding legislative control through a reconstituted committee system governed by party leaders failed to materialize, the APA was steadily reinterpreted to impose judicial controls on the administrative state in place of the congressional controls that the LRA was supposed to create. One implication of the decision of 1946’s failure to take hold was the reinterpretation of the APA—a connection that legal scholars have never fully appreciated. This development has dramatically affected the teaching and understanding of administrative law.

I.     The Seventy-Ninth Congress and the Summer of 1946

As with most mid-century congresses, the Democratic Party enjoyed majority control during the Seventy-Ninth Congress, which began its first session on January 3, 1945, and adjourned its second session on August 2, 1946, the day that President Truman signed the LRA.970th to 79th Congresses (1927–1947), Hist., Art, & Archives, U.S. H.R., At the beginning of the Seventy-Ninth Congress, Democrats held a 244–189–1–1 majority in the House and a 57–38–1 majority in the Senate (Senator Robert La Follette, Jr. of Wisconsin was a member of the Progressive Party and an integral figure in the debates over the LRA).10Congress Profiles: 79th Congress (1945–1947), Hist., Art & Archives, U.S. H.R,; Party Division, U.S. Senate,; Historical Highlights: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, Hist., Art & Archives, U.S. H.R., These numbers changed slightly during the Seventy-Ninth Congress due to vacancies in both the House and the Senate. Democratic majorities were diminished slightly in both chambers, but not significantly enough to alter the political dynamics. Government Printing Office, 79th Congress, 1st Session, Congressional Directory iii, 144 (2d ed. 1945). Two members of the House of Representatives came from third parties: Merlin Hull, Progressive from Wisconsin, and Vito Marcantonio, American Labor Party representative from New York. Id. at 80, 132. This majority was relatively stable leading up to the 1944 elections, but Democrats enjoyed a slightly larger majority than usual.11Congress Profiles: 78th Congress (1943–1945), Hist., Art & Archives, U.S. H.R.,; see Congress Profiles: 77th Congress (1941–1943), Hist., Art, & Archives, U.S. H.R., Democrats picked up twenty seats in the House in 1944 and lost one seat in the Senate.12Party Divisions of the House of Representatives, 1789 to Present, Hist., Art & Archives, U.S. H.R.[hereinafter Party Divisions], Samuel Rayburn (D-TX), the longstanding Speaker of the House, was Speaker during the Seventy-Ninth Congress, and Alben Barkley (D-KY), a supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal, was the Senate’s Majority Leader (and eventually Vice President during President Truman’s second term).13Congress Profiles: 79th Congress, supra note 10.

Voters punished Democrats in the 1946 congressional elections, however, and Republicans gained control of both houses, an unusual occurrence during this period.14Congress Profiles: 80th Congress (1947–1949), Hist., Art & Archives, U.S. H.R., In the 1946 elections Republicans gained fifty-five seats for a 246–188 majority in the House and won twelve Senate seats, receiving a 51–45 majority.15Party Divisions, supra note 12. Joseph McCarthy defeated Senator La Follette.16James Reston, La Follette Loses His Seat In Senate; Winner and Loser in Wisconsin Primary, N.Y. Times, Aug. 15, 1946, at A1. Richard Nixon won his first term in the House of Representatives.17Clerk of U.S. H.R., Statistics of the Congressional Election of November 5, 1946, at 3 (1947). There is considerable evidence that members of both parties knew the Democratic majority may change hands in 1946.18Professor Gary A. Donaldson writes: “[A]s the 1946 congressional elections approached, the Republicans prepared for a significant gain in their congressional power. As early as June, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was willing to admit privately that the Democrats might lose control of the House.” Gary A. Donaldson, Truman Defeats Dewey 5 (1999). One political cartoon from July 1946 depicted Barkley and Rayburn presenting the Legislative Reorganization Act to “John Q. Public,” but “Public” responds that “you ought to see the reorganization plan we’re working on for next November.” Running For Office: Candidates, Campaigns, & Cartoons of Clifford Berryman, Nat’l Archives,

The Republican majority was short-lived. The party, which had not controlled either chamber since 1932,19Party Divisions, supra note 12. lost control of Congress two years later as a result of the 1948 elections.20Id. President Truman campaigned against the “Do Nothing Congress,” and Democrats retook both chambers.21Truman’s slogan was a misnomer. The Eightieth Congress passed many important bills, such as the Taft–Hartley Act (which limited the authority of the National Labor Relations Board), the National Security Act of 1947 (which restructured the nation’s security and intelligence agencies), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and the Foreign Assistance Act, known colloquially as the Marshall Plan. In addition, the Eightieth Congress passed the Twenty-Second Amendment, sending it to the states for ratification, and created the first Hoover Commission. Donaldson, supra note 18, 147–49 (1999); National Security Act of 1947, U.S. Dep’t of State,; Summary of the Clean Water Act, EPA,; Party Divisions, supra note 12. The coalition that enacted the APA and the LRA in the summer of 1946, in sum, voters replaced with a Republican majority in the fall elections. That new majority was once again replaced in the 1948 elections, returning a Democratic majority to both chambers.22Party Divisions, supra note 12.

Special committees considered both the APA and the LRA throughout 1945, and debated and enacted them in the summer of 1946.23Cong. Rsch. Serv., RL31835, Reorganization of the House of Representatives: Modern Reform Efforts 2 (Oct. 20, 2003); George B. Shepherd, Fierce Compromise: The Administrative Procedure Act Emerges from New Deal Politics, 90 Nw. L. Rev. 1557, 1558, 1560 (1996). The APA, as discussed in the following Part, was the product of several years of contestation between Congress and the president over the authority, discretion, and control of administrative agencies.24See Shepherd, supra note 23, at 1560 (1996). These battles produced several different reform proposals, one of which passed Congress but Roosevelt successfully vetoed in the late 1930s, well before the APA emerged.25Grisinger, supra note 7, at 59. The American Bar Association (“ABA”) sharply criticized the lack of legal process in administrative agencies and laid the groundwork for fundamental reform.26Id. at 62–63. In Congress itself, hearings were held on the APA in the summer of 1945, and the bill was brought before the Senate for debate on March 12, 1946.27Walter Gellhorn, The Administrative Procedure Act: The Beginnings, 72 Va. L. Rev. 219, 231 (1986). The Senate passed the APA on that date by unanimous consent with no dissent.28Id. From there, the APA went to the House, where it was approved on May 24, again with no dissent.29Id. at 232. The House adopted some technical amendments, which the Senate enacted on May 27, and the APA became law with President Truman’s signature on June 11, 1946.30Shepherd, supra note 23, at 1674.

The LRA came a few months later, but Congress considered it at the same time as the APA. Its legislative history, though shorter than the APA’s, followed a parallel path. A professional organization, the American Political Science Association (“APSA”), formed a committee in 1941 to study the modernization of Congress.31See Donald R. Matthews, American Political Science and Congressional Reform: The American Political Science Association’s Committee on Congress (1941–1945) and Study of Congress (1965–1973), 5 Soc. Sci. Hist. 91, 92, 95–96 (1981). That committee issued a report several years later, right after Congress formed the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress (“JCOC”) in February of 1945.32Id. at 98. That committee, also known as the La Follette–Monroney committee, held extensive hearings from March to June 1945 (just before the hearings were held on the APA).33See Roger H. Davidson, The Advent of the Modern Congress: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, 15 Leg. Stud. Q. 357, 363 (1990). The JCOC’s report was issued on March 1946, and the Senate debated the LRA from June 5 to June 10 of 1946.34S. Rep. No. 79-1011, at i (1946); see also 92 Cong. Rec. 6344, 6547 (1946). The Senate passed the measure on June 10, by a 49–16 vote, but the bill was delayed in the House, as Speaker Rayburn stalled to avoid conflicts with powerful House committee chairs.3592 Cong. Rec. 6578 (1946); Julian E. Zelizer, On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences, 1948–2000, at 30 (2004). On July 25, 1946, the House debated the bill and approved various amendments, passing the LRA by a 229–61 vote.36Davidson, supra note 33, at 364. The Senate approved the new bill on July 26 by voice vote, and Truman signed the LRA into law on August 2, 1946.3792 Cong. Rec. 10,152 (1946); see also Presidential Statement on Signing the Legislative Reorganization Act, 1 Pub. Papers 373 (Aug. 2, 1946); Davidson, supra note 33, at 364.

The full details of the legislative history and debates for both measures are the subject of the following Parts, but this cursory view indicates that the two were under study and consideration at the same time. And ultimately, both were signed into law within two months of each other.38Grisinger, supra note 7, at 109. They were not passed hastily, and each was the product of years of careful study. Professional organizations informed both with reports on administrative procedure and congressional modernization in the years leading up to their enactment.39Id. at 62; Davidson, supra note 33, at 362–63. Both were controversial and highly visible laws. Although each was passed by a wide majority—and in the case of the APA, by voice vote—leading members believed that they had overcome significant opposition in order to obtain passage. This was especially true of the LRA. Then, a year after its passage and enactment, Representative Estes Kefauver (D-TN) and Professor Jack Levin wrote that the LRA “upset all predictions” and that it faced “a bitter uphill fight in both the Senate and House to shake Congress loose from two decades of inertia.”40Estes Kefauver & Jack Levin, A Twentieth-Century Congress 220 (1947). Given the conflict surrounding both laws and their visibility, it is reasonable to assume that members understood how the two measures would interact and would have one in mind when considering the other, and vice versa. The fuller history of the two measures generally supports these assumptions.

II.     The Administrative Procedure Act: A Pioneer Effort

As George Shepherd has explained, the APA was the product of a “fierce compromise” over the legitimacy of the administrative state that had emerged during the New Deal.41Shepherd, supra note 23, at 1557, 1570. In particular, lawyers and judges realized that they stood to lose much of their authority in the transfer of political power from courts to administrative agencies.42Id. at 1570–73. As President Roosevelt put it in his veto message on the Walter­–Logan Act (a measure predating but in some ways anticipating the APA):

[A] large part of the legal profession has never reconciled itself to the existence of the administrative tribunal. . . . [preferring] the stately ritual of the courts, in which lawyers play all the speaking parts, to the simple procedure of administrative hearings which a client can understand and even participate in.43The President Vetoes the Bill Regulating the Administrative Agencies, 9 Pub. Papers 616, 618 (Dec. 18, 1940).

President Roosevelt believed that the bar was the source of measures to restrain the power of administrative agencies.44Id. And if the statements of the ABA at the end of the 1930s were any indication, he was correct in this assessment.

The ABA’s concerns over the rise of the administrative state emerged along with the New Deal itself. In 1933, the ABA formed a special committee on administrative law, which proposed placing the power of adjudication back into the independent judiciary rather than administrative agencies.45Gellhorn, supra note 27, at 219. Five years later, the ABA issued its infamous report denouncing the “administrative absolutism” of the New Deal.46Report of the Special Committee on Administrative Law, 63 Ann. Rep. A.B.A. 331, 346 (1938). Eventually the ABA shifted from pressing for wholesale transfer of adjudication into independent courts to advocating review boards in each administrative agency to review all decisions their personnel made.47Gellhorn, supra note 27, at 220–21. Congress responded to these calls by passing the Walter–Logan Act in 1939.48Id. at 224. Walter–Logan would have subjected agencies to stronger judicial controls as well as more significant internal review procedures to protect individuals aggrieved by agency decisions.49Id. at 220–21. It also would have required trial-type hearings for rulemaking and adjudication.50Id. at 221. President Roosevelt’s veto ensured that Walter–Logan would not become law, but Congress continued to work towards passage of a compromise bill that could survive the president’s veto.51Id. at 226–29.

The debates on the APA shed light on its intended purpose. Generally speaking, in the words of Senator Patrick McCarran (R-NV), who led the floor debates on the bill, the goal of the law was to “cut down on the ‘cult of discretion’” that had emerged “in the last decade or so.”52Pat McCarran, Improving “Administrative Justice”: Hearings and Evidence; Scope of Judicial Review, 32 A.B.A. J. 827, 828 (1946). This was particularly true of the scope of review section, which provided that reviewing courts “shall decide all relevant questions of law.”535 U.S.C. § 706 (2018). As Francis Walter (D-PA) (after whom Walter–Logan was partially named) explained on the floor of the House, the APA “requires courts to determine independently all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional or statutory provisions.”54Administrative Procedure Act: Legislative History, 79th Congress, 1944–1946, at 370 (1946) [hereinafter APA Legislative History]. Walter added the word “independently” in his summary of this statutory provision, in line with several members’ comments on the floor of Congress relating to this section.55Id. Generally, members agreed that the APA would establish judicial review of agencies’ statutory interpretations.56See Joseph Postell, Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State’s Challenge to Constitutional Government 240–42 (2017); Aditya Bamzai, The Origins of Judicial Deference to Executive Interpretation, 126 Yale L.J. 908, 988–90 (2017).

Other provisions similarly limited administrative agencies’ discretion and authority. While the APA did not go so far as to create a complete separation of functions between agency prosecutors and adjudicators, it created an internal separation of functions that served as a middle ground between the current law and recommendations for a stricter separation. Representative Howard W. Smith (D-VA) expressed hope for “a more complete separation of the judicial and executive functions” in the APA, but Francis Walter noted that the “‘internal’ separation of functions” would still mark an improvement over the current law.57APA Legislative History, supra note 54, at 348, 362.

The consensus that prevailed during the legislative debates over the APA, in sum, suggested that members of Congress intended it to serve as a constraint on the administrative state. It was generally acknowledged to be the product of careful study and compromise, and its provisions for administrative procedure, agency structure, and scope of judicial review were designed to place limits on how agencies could function in the future.58See Postell, supra note 56, at 238–39. Some viewed it as a final settlement of the New Deal controversy over the administrative state,59See APA Legislative History, supra note 54, at 346. but others announced, as the debates came to a conclusion, that the law marked the first step in a long process of limiting and constraining administrative authority. Representative Earl Michener (R-MI) captured the sentiment of these reformers when he called the law “a pioneer effort” that “can be amplified as circumstances warrant.”60Id. at 347. Representative John Gwynne (R-IA) said, more forcefully, that the APA was “a start at least along the road that we must travel to regulate the many bureaus and tribunals that are now operating in the executive branch of the Government.”61Id. at 373. Senator McCarran wrote an article after the APA’s passage arguing that Congress still needed “to probe deeper into the general problem of regulatory government. We must do that, lest we become deluded into thinking that what we have done, or are now doing, marks the end of the road to which there is, in truth, no end.”62Pat McCarran, Unwritten, and Irrational, Constitution of Regulatory Government in the United States, 24 Notre Dame L. Rev. 62, 62 (1948). Perhaps the most colorful statement was from Representative John Jennings Jr. (R-TN), who said that the APA was

a step in the right direction, but many more of the same tenor and effect need to be taken by Congress. . . . The chief indoor sport of the Federal bureaucrat is to evolve out of his own inner consciousness, like a spider spins his web, countless confusing rules and regulations which may deprive a man of his property, his liberty, and bedevil the very life out of him.63APA Legislative History, supra note 54, at 392.

Most of the members who suggested that further reforms would be forthcoming were Republicans.64See Postellsupra note 56, at 242–43. Since Republicans had some reason to think they may be the majority party in the subsequent Congress,65Grisinger, supra note 7, at 127. they were perhaps laying the groundwork for a second bill that would augment the constraints the APA placed on administrative agencies.

The most vocal supporters and contributors to the legislative debates surrounding the APA, as these statements indicate, were the critics of the administrative state. Supporters and moderates agreed with the provisions of the bill but were less emphatic about the need for future reforms. Senator McCarran, for instance, spoke in grandiose terms about the significance of the APA and the nature of the problem it addressed. He famously called the APA “a bill of rights for the hundreds of thousands of Americans whose affairs are controlled or regulated in one way or another by agencies of the Federal Government.”66APA Legislative History, supra note 54, at 298. Yet he admitted that in many cases, such as regarding the admissibility of evidence, “we sought an intermediate ground which we thought would be protective of the rights of individuals, and at the same time would not handicap the agencies.”67Id. at 320.

In short, the APA was most strenuously supported by critics of the administrative state, who were the most vocal in the legislative debates, and who clearly indicated their desire to follow the APA with further and stricter reforms. But others supported the APA because its effects were modest and would not disrupt the administrative state that had been established during the New Deal. As one contemporary wrote colorfully in the Yale Law Journal:

The basic purpose of the APA was obviously the wish to bring about, somehow, a curb of the administrative branch of our government . . . Its passage in part at least was due to the deep yearning of the traditional lawyer “for the comparatively simple life of yesteryear” and his desire to put brakes on any new development in the law that disturbed his accustomed way of doing business. The main protagonist of this yearning was the American Bar Association.68Reginald Parker, The Administrative Procedure Act: A Study in Overestimation, 60 Yale L.J. 581, 583 (1951).

Nevertheless, he insisted, while the APA “naturally curbs administrative agencies to a certain degree,” those changes “do not come close to an effective curb of the administrative branch of the Government as such.”69Id. at 587. The APA received broad, unanimous support in Congress because critics of the administrative state saw it as a first step to be followed by more significant reforms and the supporters of the administrative state understood that it would not significantly change the way it functioned.

III.     The Legislative Reorganization Act: Congress Asserts Itself

While the APA was, in part, the product of experts from the bar, reform proposals that emerged from political scientists spurred the LRA. APSA, the professional organization representing these political scientists, formed a Committee on Congress in 1941 to produce articles and reports recommending a restructuring of Congress.70See Grisinger, supra note 7, at 117; see also Matthews, supra note 31. Many of APSA’s proposals would work their way into the LRA.

A.     The Political Scientists Weigh In

Political scientists during the mid-twentieth century regarded Congress as a hopelessly outdated institution. It was easy to come to this conclusion considering two factors: the growing complexity and rapidity of governmental action, and the arcane rules and procedures that had built up in Congress over time. As Professor Roger H. Davidson writes, “Within the political science profession there was . . . a generation of intellectuals trained in ‘scientific management’ who looked with horror on what they regarded, no doubt rightly, as a messy, tradition-bound organization.”71Davidson, supra note 33, at 361–62. APSA’s five-member Committee on Congress, formed in 1941, was chaired by George Galloway, who had previously worked for the National Recovery Administration.72Daniel Stid, Two Pathways for Congressional Reform, in Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock 11, 12 (William F. Connelly, Jr., John J. Pitney, Jr. & Gary J. Schmitt eds., 2017). Under Galloway’s leadership the APSA committee produced a report in 1945 whose recommendations, unsurprisingly, “presaged those eventually made by the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress,” where Galloway would eventually serve as staff director.73Davidson, supra note 33, at 362–63.

The political scientists’ committee was more aggressive in its proposals than the congressional committee that succeeded it, presumably because the members of the committee were less concerned about the political ramifications of their proposals. For instance, the APSA committee addressed the problems associated with using seniority to determine committee chairs.74See Matthews, supra note 31, at 107. This seniority principle, combined with the significant powers the committee chairs held as appointed under that principle, led to a system where the most senior (and more conservative) members of the House controlled veto points that enabled them to obstruct legislation their junior colleagues preferred.75See Nelson W. Polsby, How Congress Evolves: Social Bases of Institutional Change 10–16 (2004). The APSA committee understood the political challenge of unseating these chairs, but recommended alternatives such as imposing term limits or age limits on chairs.76See The Reorganization of Congress: A Report of the Committee on Congress of the American Political Science Association 34–37, 80 (1945); see also Stid, supra note 72, at 14. While these solutions had little chance of making their way into the legislation, given the power that committee chairs had in both chambers, other proposals essentially formed the basis of the congressional committee’s suggestions and the final legislation itself.77Davidson, supra note 33, at 362–63. The APSA’s Committee on Congress was followed by the creation of a congressional committee that would share the same views and aims as the political scientists.

B.     The La Follette–Monroney Committee

Representative A.S. Mike Monroney (D-OK) and Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr. (Progressive-WI) chaired the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress (“JCOC”).78Id. at 361. Monroney and La Follette would go on to coauthor the LRA, and La Follette led the floor debates over its passage in the Senate.79Id. The JCOC was a bipartisan group of twelve legislators (six Democrats, five Republicans, and La Follette) and the reorganization proposal it devised was reported unanimously.80See Eric Schickler, Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress 141 (2001). Though the proposal was reported unanimously, Professor Schickler notes that three Democrats dissented from specific measures in the proposal. Id. The Committee began its deliberations in spring of 1945, holding thirty-nine days of hearings and receiving testimony from over one hundred witnesses before issuing its report.81Davidson, supra note 33, at 363. Proposals to weaken the seniority principle were quickly dropped, and the Committee focused instead on weakening the discretion of the committee chairs and increasing committee transparency.82James L. Sundquist, The Decline and Resurgence of Congress 180–82 (1981); see also Zelizer, supra note 35, at 30.

The JCOC discussed whether and how to address the seniority system but failed to agree on any proposals. One problem, as already indicated, was political—the bill could not pass if powerful committee barons resisted.83Sundquist, supra note 82, at 180–81. This was likely the critical factor. The problem was also substantive, however. All of the alternatives to the seniority principle—giving party leaders the power to choose chairs, setting term limits, or allowing the majority party caucus to name chairs—posed their own difficulties.84Id. at 181. As Senator La Follette testified at the committee hearings, there was no “solution better than the disease.”85Id. In addition to avoiding the problem of changing the seniority principle, the JCOC was explicitly forbidden from making any recommendations that would alter the rules and procedures of either chamber of Congress.86Cong. Inst., Joint Committees on the Organization of Congress: A Short History 4 (2015).

Aside from these critical omissions, however, most of the core features of the LRA were anticipated in the JCOC report. First, the report advocated streamlining and reorganizing Congress’s committee system to match the structure of the federal bureaucracy that had emerged over the past decades.87Grisinger, supra note 7, at 124. Second, it supported increased staff resources and expertise within Congress so that it could compete with the vast staff and information capacities of the agencies.88Id. at 126–27. Third, it insisted upon the need for congressional committees to supervise and control the administration of the law in the executive branch.89Id. at 125. In sum, the report sought to put Congress in control of the bureaucracy. To advance this goal, the report also endorsed eliminating many items from the congressional agenda, such as private bills and bridge bills, that distracted members from their primary responsibilities as legislators and policymakers.90Id. at 126.

C.     Centralization and Party Leadership: The Forgotten Recommendations

In addition to these major changes that were ultimately implemented in the final legislation, the JCOC’s report also recommended the creation of structures and committees that would centralize power in Congress.91Id. at 115–17. Centralization would increase Congress’s capacity to coordinate its activities, enabling it to work efficiently in spite of the checks and balances that the Constitution placed in the legislative process. The committee recommended the creation of a legislative budget process that would reduce the president’s initiative in setting revenue and spending targets, as well as party policy committees that would set the agendas for their respective party caucuses.92Id. at 125. In other words, the committee connected the restoration of Congress’s role with centralizing mechanisms that would increase party leadership control over the legislative agenda. As the committee report read:

There is no unity of command in Congress today. . . . As a result, policy making is splintered and uncoordinated. The proposed policy committees would formulate over-all legislative policy of the respective parties and strengthen party leadership. They would also help to promote party responsibility and accountability for the performance of platform promises.93S. Rep. No. 79-1400, at 4 (1946).

This proposal for central party policy committees in each chamber foreshadowed the other major, and more famous, APSA report of the mid-1940s, Towards a More Responsible Two-Party System.94Am. Pol. Sci. Ass’n, Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System, 44 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. (Supplement) 1 (1950). That report opened by identifying a core problem in the American political system, that “either major party, when in power, is ill-equipped to organize its members in the legislative and executive branches into a government held together and guided by the party program. Party responsibility at the polls thus tends to vanish.”95Id. at v. Without leadership that can proclaim a party program and incentivize individual members to enact it, the report argued, the will of the people could not be translated into a coherent policy agenda.96Id. at 8–9.

The desire for greater party leadership and centralized control of Congress reflected second thoughts about party leadership in Congress in the aftermath of the insurgent uprising against Speaker Joseph Cannon in 1909–1910.97There is an extensive scholarly discussion of the 1910 revolt, which was preceded by similar rule changes stripping the Speaker of authority in 1909. See Schickler, supra note 80, at 71–84; see also John D. Baker, The Character of the Congressional Revolution of 1900, 60 J. Am. Hist. 679 (1973); Charles O. Jones, Joseph G. Cannon and Howard W. Smith: An Essay on the Limits of Leadership in the House of Representatives, 30 J. Pols. 617 (1968). Prior to 1910, party leaders, and especially the Speaker of the House, enjoyed enormous power that they used to influence party members to vote for party priorities.98Sundquist, supra note 82, at 25–29, 155–65. The three pillars of the Speaker’s authority were the power to recognize members, to appoint members to committees and committee chairs, and control of the Rules Committee, which served as the primary mechanism for legislation to reach the House floor for a vote.99See Randall Strahan, Leading Representatives: The Agency of Leaders in the Politics of the U.S. House 79–126 (2007); see also Sundquist, supra note 82, at 162–68. Such a system enabled Congress to function efficiently on behalf of the party majority but it also dramatically reduced individual members’ independence and autonomy. Furthermore, it suppressed other majority coalitions, such as the inter-party coalition of Progressive Republicans and Democrats that conspired to reduce party leaders’ authority in 1909–1910.100Sundquist, supra note 82, at 167; see also Strahan, supra note 99, at 79–126.

Reducing the Speaker’s power liberated individual members from the influence of central leaders, but that freedom came with a cost. First, it inevitably led to a system of dispersed and decentralized power in the House’s committee system. Committee chairs, now chosen by seniority, were independent not only of party leaders but also of the entire party, on whose behalf the party leaders acted. This decentralization of power to autonomous committee chairs was less accountable to the membership as a whole. If members objected to the decisions of a Speaker, they could vote to replace the Speaker.101See Sundquist, supra note 82, at 164. There was no vote to assign the committee chairs.102Id. at 176–78. Second, it made Congress less efficient and responsive to a national constituency represented by the majority party. The President, who could claim the support of a national constituency, eventually supplanted the Speaker and the Congress as the representative of the nation as a whole.103See id. at 155–87. As Professor Nelson W. Polsby explains, the New Deal-era Congress was “in the grip of a conservative, anti-New Deal alliance of southern Democrats and Republicans who constituted the real majority of the House, notwithstanding the nominal Democratic majorities” that congressional elections routinely produced.104Polsby, supra note 75, at 7. This conservative coalition “was mostly obstructionist in character,” blocking measures that the majority of more progressive Democrats wished to bring to the floor for passage.105Id. at 14. Although Sam Rayburn is well-known as one of the great Speakers in the history of the House, this conservative coalition thwarted him more often than not. His inability to lead the independent chairs that the seniority principle chose meant the obstruction of progressive legislation.106See Sundquist, supra note 82, at 186.

Members generally understood these costs associated with the turn away from centralized party leadership. Both liberal and conservative members testified before the JCOC that Congress was not organized, in the words of one liberal member, to advance “any alternative constructive program of its own” to compete with the President’s.107Org. of Cong.: Hearings Before the Joint Comm. on the Org. of Cong., 79th Cong. 28–29 (1945) (statement of Sen. Voorhis). Senator Eugene Cox, a conservative Democrat from Georgia, responded to that statement by noting that “you have been classified as an ultra-progressive and I as a mossback reactionary, and still there is not the slightest difference between my views and the statement you make.”108Id. (statement of Sen. Eugene Cox). The committee system was less responsible for this decline in congressional capacity than the weakening of party leaders’ tools for building and sustaining a functioning majority coalition.

The leading figures of the JCOC, and its other members, in short, understood that restructuring the committee system and focusing on congressional oversight were not the only or even the primary goals of congressional reform. Congress could only compete with the administrative state, they understood, if it organized itself to advance a legislative agenda of its own. This would require rebuilding mechanisms that would integrate the activities of the committees and put them in the service of a party majority. This was an explicit aim of the reformers on the committee. As Professor Joseph Cooper explains, “the Reformers developed their ideas concerning the strengthening and contribution of Congressional policy committees within a broader frame of reference which included approval for party government.”109Joseph Cooper, Congress and its Committees: A Historical Approach to the Role of Committees in the Legislative Process 240 (Frank Freidel & Ernest May eds., 1988). Scholars tend to overemphasize the committee restructuring portions of the LRA because they were eventually enacted into law, neglecting the necessary integrating reforms that the LRA’s supporters wanted to include alongside the committee reforms. The latter set of reforms trampled on too many entrenched interests to make it into the final legislation, which undermined the LRA’s effectiveness.

D.     The Introduction of the LRA: La Follette’s Vision

Senator La Follette led the floor debates over the LRA in the Senate, where it was introduced on May 13, two months after the JCOC issued its report.110Aaron L. Ford, The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, 32 A.B.A. J. 741, 741–42 (1946). Debate began on June 5 and lasted several days.11192 Cong. Rec. 6344 (1946). In his introductory remarks, Senator La Follette opened by highlighting the grave crisis that, in his view, threatened representative government in America. In his words, there was a “widespread congressional and public belief that a grave constitutional crisis exists in which the fate of representative government is at stake. Public affairs are now handled by a host of administrative agencies headed by nonelected officials, with only casual oversight by Congress.”112Id.(statement of Sen. Robert La Follette). As he had written a few years earlier, Senator La Follette believed that “representative government in the United States is on trial for its life.”113Robert M. La Follette, Jr., A Senator Looks at Congress, Atlantic Monthly, July 1943, reprinted in Staff of Joint Comm. on the Org. of Cong., 79th Cong., The Org. of Cong.: Symp. on Cong. 131, 131 (Comm. Print 1945). “If the control of governmental policy is to remain with the people’s elected representatives,” he continued, rather than “drift into the hands of a relatively irresponsible bureaucracy, Congress will have to streamline its organization.”114Id. at 135. The main proposals of the LRA, Senator La Follette implied, were the product of a central concern: the growth of the administrative state and Congress’s inability to supervise and control the exercise of its powers.115See 92 Cong. Rec. 6344 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette). Rather than reducing the size or scope of that administrative state, the LRA was designed to place Congress in charge of it.

After identifying the problem, Senator La Follette summarized the LRA’s reforms. First and foremost in his view was “the strengthening of the policy-making functions of the Congress.”116Id. In particular, reorganizing the standing committees “to meet modern conditions” was imperative.117Id. To that end, “the pending measure proposes to simplify the committee structure and . . . to correlate it with the departments and agencies of the Federal Government.”118Id. Reducing the number of committees, matching them to the administrative state, and defining their jurisdiction in law were the central reforms of the LRA. In addition to restructuring the committees, the LRA sought to “regulariz[e] committee procedure as regards hearings, meetings, and records.”119Id. at 6345. As discussed earlier, Senator La Follette and others likely realized that the seniority principle for committee chairs was not negotiable, and sought to diminish their authority by constraining their discretion rather than controlling their appointment.

To facilitate this new committee structure and ensure it worked to oversee the administrative state, Senator La Follette explained the second category of reforms: “to improve the staff facilities of the committees in order to enable them better to discharge their responsibility in the field of their jurisdiction.”120Id. Specifically, the LRA as introduced sought to provide “a high-caliber administrative assistant to perform non-legislative duties and departmental work” to each member of Congress, and to “provide for the appointment to each committee of four experts in its subject-matter field.”12192 Cong. Rec. 6345 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette). Committee chairs would appoint these expert committee staffers, but only after the approval of a new director of congressional personnel.122See id. at 6461. The law as introduced therefore anticipated a kind of merit system for committee staff.

After summarizing the streamlining of committees and augmentation of committee staff, Senator La Follette discussed the third aspect of the LRA: strengthening political parties. Senator La Follette connected this goal with the need to reduce special interest influence on Congress. “[T]o strengthen party government as an offset to organized pressure groups,” he explained, “we provide in this measure for the establishment of majority and minority policy committees in each House of Congress.”123Id. at 6345. To further increase the efficiency and coordination of Congress, the original LRA also proposed “the creation of a Joint Legislative-Executive Council” that would “mitigate the periodic deadlocks which occur between the Executive and the Congress, and which have caused dangerous crises in the conduct of the Federal Government. I believe that such a council would tend to strengthen coordination and cooperation between the two branches.”124Id. In short, Senator La Follette argued that Congress could only be in a position to offset the influence of the executive if two things were present: coordination authority inside Congress, and coordination mechanisms between Congress and the President. Without these, Congress’s fragmentation into committees and individuals with different constituencies would weaken its ability to set the policy agenda.

Only after emphasizing both the streamlining of committees and the strengthening of parties in Congress did Senator La Follette proceed to the LRA’s fourth major reform: “the provisions designed to strengthen congressional oversight of the execution of the laws by the executive branch.”125Id. Most notably, section 136, as enacted, read, “each standing committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives shall exercise continuous watchfulness of the execution by the administrative agencies concerned of any laws, the subject matter of which is within the jurisdiction of such committee.”126Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, Pub. L. No. 79-601, 60 Stat. 812, § 136. The original provision, a term to which Senator Forrest Donnell (R-MO) objected, was for “continuous surveillance” rather than “continuous watchfulness.”12792 Cong. Rec. 6445 (1946). After a lengthy discussion between Senator Donnell and Senator La Follette, Senator Donnell’s proposed amendment to change “surveillance” to “watchfulness” passed.128See Rosenbloom, supra note 4, at 69–71. This was not the only occasion on which Senator Donnell caused a lengthy digression on a relatively trivial matter during the debates over the LRA. At another point he prompted an extended debate over whether the LRA was unconstitutional because it made rules for both chambers of Congress, whereas the Constitution says that “each House” shall make its own rules. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 5; see also 92 Cong. Rec. 6391 (1946). Each chamber was therefore, in his view, delegating control over its rules to the other chamber (and the President who signed the law). Many members chimed in to note, first, that each chamber could amend its rules at any time after the law was passed, and second, that historically this was not the first time Congress had enacted a law setting up procedures or rules for both chambers. See id. In explaining the oversight provisions of the law, Senator La Follette emphasized the inevitability of delegation. In his words, “because of the complexity of our modern society it has become necessary for the Congress to delegate to the various departments and agencies of the Government powers for making rules and regulations in order that they may carry out in detail the intent of Congress.”12992 Cong. Rec. 6365 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette). Each committee, the law provided, would have the power of subpoena.130See id. Special committees would be banned (an aspect of the law that generated significant discussion), so that the standing committees and their staff could become intimately familiar with the details of the execution of the laws within their jurisdiction.131See id. As Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) explained colorfully, the expert staff, armed with the subpoena power, “must go and live in the structure of Government and find the weaknesses and then . . . sit at the elbows of the Members of Congress as they are assembled in committees and say: ‘Ask him this question . . . ask him how he justifies this expense or that procedure.’”132Id. at 10,051 (statement of Sen. Everett Dirksen). The combination of committee jurisdiction, expertise, and subpoena power would enable congressional committees to use hearings as weapons to subject administrative agencies to their control. This would ensure coordination between the legislative and administrative parts of the government. As Senator La Follette would later state,

[I]f the standing committee is given this responsibility and mandate, and is given a staff of experts, it will be in touch with the various activities of the departments or agencies of the Government over which it has jurisdiction, and it will endeavor by cooperation, by meetings and exchange of views and gathering of information, to make certain, insofar as possible, that the agency or department, in exercising the broad delegation of legislative power that is contained in almost every act, is exercising it as it was intended by Congress.133Id. at 6445 (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette).

In other words, standing committees with their expert staff would partner with agencies in carrying out the law, rather than delegating unfettered discretion to them. Senator La Follette envisioned extensive meetings and discussions, and clear lines of communication, between the committees and the agencies, rather than ad hoc oversight. This would be an ongoing, collaborative relationship between Congress and the administrative state, rather than a narrow oversight responsibility.

In addition to the LRA’s central features—committee restructuring, increase in staff expertise, party policy committees and a joint legislative-executive council, and oversight mechanisms—Senator La Follette explained the other reforms of the law (briefly summarized here). The law required the registration of lobbyists (again, in Senator La Follette’s words, to ensure that “the true attitude of public opinion” is not “distorted and obscured by pressures of special-interest groups”134Id. at 6367.), the creation of a legislative budget process that foreshadowed the 1974 Budget Control Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act (Title IV of the LRA), and the General Bridge Act (Title V of the LRA), which transferred onerous constituent service functions to administrative agencies.135See Rosenbloom, supra note 4, at 62.

Senator La Follette concluded his summary remarks on the LRA by reminding members of the crisis that the Act was intended to avert:

[A] tidal wave of complex, difficult, and intricate problems is threatening to engulf the legislative arm of the Government . . . under our present archaic organization it is impossible for Congress to transact the business which it has become imperative that it handle and dispose of at each session.13692 Cong. Rec. 6370 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette).

Senator La Follette argued that “[t]he fate of democracy will depend upon whether we make the legislative arm of the government efficient and responsive to the will of the people.”137Id. at 6371. Like the floor leaders for the passage of the APA, Senator La Follette connected the LRA’s reforms to the need to preserve representative government in the face of executive and bureaucratic encroachment.138See Shepherd, supra note 23, at 1570. At stake was democracy itself. While the LRA and the APA advanced different aspects of the solution—increasing congressional capacity and efficiency versus applying legal constraints on agencies—they were designed to address the same problem, namely the inevitable arrival of the modern administrative state. The LRA’s approach to reasserting congressional control, in Senator La Follette’s view, required merging committee consolidation, increased committee staff expertise, and centralized party control.

E.     Amendment and Passage of the LRA

Several aspects of the LRA were controversial in the Senate, which altered important features of the law during the amendment process. The creation of a version of the merit system for committee staff provoked significant resistance.139See 92 Cong. Rec. 6372 (1946). As mentioned earlier, the Act as introduced created a director of congressional personnel who would provide committee chairs with a list of suitable candidates for appointment as committee staff.140See supra notes 120–122 and accompanying discussion. In addition to this, Senator La Follette expected that committee staff would not move with committee chairs from one assignment to another. As he explained, “with the exception of one or two committees in the Senate, the staff of the committee moves around with the chairman. We want to get away from that.”14192 Cong. Rec. 6395 (1946). The committee staff would serve on good behavior and have merit protection like that civil servants possessed.142Clarifying this middle position between merit protections and at will employment, Senator La Follette explained later in the debate: [W]e have declared the principle that he should have tenure. But of course tenure does not mean the permanent freezing of a man into a job. . . . [W]e do not propose to give him any statutory rights such as those employed by civil-service employees. A civil service employee who is discharged may appeal to the Commission for a review of his case. . . . That right is not given in this bill to any person who holds one of these [staff] positions. Id. at 6441.

Among others, Senator Walter George (D-GA), a powerful southern conservative committee chair, strenuously objected to the process envisioned by the Act as introduced. Somewhat hyperbolically, he claimed that the director would be a “strong man” and “he will reach the point where he will overshadow both Houses of Congress.”143Id. at 6372. At other points in the debate the director of personnel was called a “superlord,” “generalissimo,” “czar,” and “dictator.”144Id. at 6454, 6460, 6529. Multiple senators objected to taking away their “patronage” appointments over congressional staff. Senator Elmer Thomas (D-OK), for instance, asserted that “to provide a man with authority to dictate the patronage on the Senate side and the House side both is to me unthinkable.”145Id. at 6459. Senator La Follette responded that “the objective of this provision” is precisely “to do away with the patronage system which exists in congressional employment.”146Id. Senator Thomas defended the senators’ control over staff appointments:

I would not say that I am for the spoils system. But when the Democratic Party is in power I am of the opinion that the Democratic Party is entitled to have its affairs administered by the men, and women, for that matter, who are in sympathy with Democratic principles and Democratic policies.14792 Cong. Rec. 6495 (1946).

Senator Kenneth McKellar (D-TN) echoed Senator Thomas’s objections, and ultimately Senator La Follette agreed to the elimination of this proposal, leaving the selection and control of committee staff in the hands of committee chairs.148Id. at 6561.

Aside from the elimination of the merit system for committee staff, the House made the major amendments to the LRA. The House subjected the LRA to a lengthy delay upon its arrival from the Senate before weakening many of its provisions by amendment.149See Schickler, supra note 80, at 141. Professor Roger Davidson notes that the House’s delay ensured that “there was no time to negotiate further before Congress adjourned . . . . Seeing no alternative but to accept the emasculated bill presented [to] them by the House, La Follette moved that the Senate agree to the House amendments” rather than go to conference committee.150Davidson, supra note 33, at 364. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and his allies, therefore, may have imposed this delay for strategic purposes.

The question of party leadership through central party committees was especially significant. Speaker Rayburn understood the threat centralized leadership posed to powerful committee chairs, as well as the threat that it posed to the tenuous relationship between progressive and conservative Democrats.151Sundquist, supra note 82, at 188–89. More specifically, he believed that it represented a threat to his personal power.152Id. at 189. Although—or perhaps because—he led a fractured caucus, his personal relationships were vital for securing harmony within the party and moving legislation forward. Party committees imposing a common policy agenda on such a disparate coalition would threaten the peaceful coexistence of its members and provide a mechanism for undermining Speaker Rayburn’s personal influence.

In a series of speeches on congressional history, Senator Robert Byrd later explicitly accused Rayburn of delaying the LRA to eliminate this part of the plan: “The bill moved to the House. There it rested for six weeks on the Speaker’s desk. . . . Speaker Rayburn, despite earlier support for reform, recognized in the bill extensive challenges to his autonomy. Policy committees would rationalize the murky decision-making processes and fix accountability.”1531 Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate 547 (Mary S. Hall ed., 1988). Ultimately, the House stripped the party policy committees from the LRA and Senator La Follette was forced to accept this alteration. As Professor James Sundquist explains, “Rayburn exercised one of his office’s remaining arbitrary powers to block creation of the proposed majority policy committee in the House and, with it, the joint legislative-executive council. Deletion of these provisions was among the concessions he demanded before he would refer the Senate-passed bill for committee consideration.”154Sundquist, supra note 82, at 188–89. By hesitating to refer the bill to the appropriate committee, Speaker Rayburn could stall the legislation in order to obtain this concession. George Galloway boldly called Speaker Rayburn’s elimination of the committees “an astonishing piece of political piracy.”155Byrd, supra note 153, at 547. However, given the relative weakness of the Speaker of the House during the 1940s, compared to the committee chairs and the chair of the House Rules Committee, it is also possible that Rayburn was protecting these members’ prerogatives rather than his own. Or, more specifically, Rayburn knew that his best opportunity for influencing committee chairs was to do so personally, rather than through formal mechanisms that would threaten their autonomy. As Professor Schickler explains, the party policy committee and joint legislative-executive council proposals were both “dropped from the bill at the insistence of House Speaker Sam Rayburn” because party committees would reduce his ability to manage the House through informal contacts.156Schickler, supra note 80, at 145–46. He may have known that the LRA stood little chance of passing if it threatened the most powerful members of the House.157As the foregoing analysis suggests, Speaker Rayburn’s view that the party policy committees threatened his power, rather than potentially enhanced it, may have been shortsighted. Sean Theriault and Mickey Edwards write, for instance, that under the LRA “the Speaker marginally lost power to refer bills to favored committees . . . . No longer could Speakers skirt difficult committee chairs by naming a new and more complaint committee. Rather, the party leadership was forced to work through the nineteen existing channels to pass legislation.” Sean Theriault & Mickey Edwards, Congress: The First Branch 214 (2020).

Although the party policy committees did not survive the House’s amendment process, the Senate still created them, when it passed a supplemental appropriation in 1947 to create majority and minority policy committees in its chamber.158See Sundquist, supra note 82, at 189. Michael Crespin, Joel Sievert, Anthony Madonna, and Nathaniel Ament-Stone have argued that the creation of a majority party committee in the Senate measurably increased party unity in the Senate, enabling the majority party to overcome the collective action problems inherent in the Senate’s individualistic nature by structuring procedural votes.159See Michael H. Crespin, Anthony Madonna, Joel Sievert & Nathaniel Ament-Stone, The Establishment of Party Policy Committees in the U.S. Senate: Coordination, Not Coercion, 96 Soc. Sci. Q. 34, 34 (2014).

In addition to the elimination of party policy committees, the House also diluted the committees’ subpoena power, which the Senate version would have granted. This power was limited to only a handful of House committees: Appropriations, Expenditures in the Executive Department, and Un-American Activities.160Schickler, supra note 80, at 162. An amendment to extend that power to all House committees failed on the House floor.161Id. Representative Mike Monroney opposed it and explained on the floor that the power was granted to Senate committees to “get away from that outbreak of special committees” with which “[t]he Senate is plagued.”16293 Cong. Rec. 281 (1947) (statement of Rep. Mike Monroney).

IV.     The Failed Promise of 1946

The amendments that conservative Southern Democrats imposed in the Senate, and the House imposed as a whole, disappointed many of the LRA’s core architects and supporters. They openly lamented the weakening of the law. For instance, Representative Estes Kefauver and Professor Jack Levin wrote a book in 1947, A Twentieth-Century Congress, that advocated further reforms to strengthen central party and leadership mechanisms to make Congress more efficient.163See Kefauver & Levin, supra note 40, at 70. They envisioned a more parliamentary institution, proposing a regular “question period” in which administrators would be subjected to questioning on the Senate and House floors.164Id. They also sought a close, even physical relationship between the legislative committees and administrative agencies.165See id. at 149. Agencies, in their vision, would establish offices in the Capitol next door to the committee rooms, and the physical interaction between senior agency officials and legislative committees would draw the agencies into the committees’ orbit.166See id. This also seems to be Senator La Follette’s vision, in his comment about “meetings and exchange of views and gathering of information” between committees and agencies. 92 Cong. Rec. 5451, 6445 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette).

Unsurprisingly, the major problem that progressive Democrats identified with the LRA was the failure to address the seniority rule for selecting committee chairs. (One of the sections of Representative Kefauver and Professor Levin’s book was titled “Seniority, Sectionalism, and Senility.”)167Kefauver & Levin, supra note 40, at 133. The independence that Democratic committee chairs had from their party made the failure of the House to create party policy committees especially frustrating to progressives.

The LRA’s main proponents universally lamented this failure to establish the policy committees. Five years after the law was enacted, Professor George Galloway—the scholar who influenced both the APSA report and the JCOC’s work—noted the ineffectiveness of many of the LRA’s provisions, especially the Senate’s policy committees, which he claimed

have thus far failed to achieve their full potential. As instruments for promoting more effective liaison and cooperation with the President, they have also been a disappointment, partly because of the lack of similar party policy committees in the House of Representatives. Their limited achievements to date can be attributed . . . to their composition, to the fragmentation of power in Congress and to the deep internal divisions within both of our major political parties.168George B. Galloway, The Operation of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, 45 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 41, 52 (1951).

Professor Galloway’s assessment, in short, was that the fragmentation of power in Congress and the inability of congressional leaders to discipline members would frustrate the goals of the reformers. More bluntly, he elsewhere claimed that “if reorganization stops here, some of the changes may do more harm than good.”169Kefauver & Levin, supra note 40, at 221.

Professor Galloway may have been thinking of the weakening of the party-centered integrating reforms when he made this statement. Senator La Follette, writing in 1947, having just lost his Senate seat to Joseph McCarthy, emphasized the need for more coordination and centralization of authority in Congress.170See Robert La Follette, Jr., Systematizing Congressional Control, 41 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 58, 58 (1947). Senator La Follette urged the centrality of the party policy committees to congressional reorganization. “To meet the need for policy integration in terms of a legislative program,” he explained, “the Joint Committee [on the Organization of Congress] proposed to set up policy committees of the majority and principal minority parties.”171Id. at 63. This reform, had it survived the legislative process, would have ensured that “[b]y looking at the whole picture, greater emphasis would be placed on national welfare as against sectional or special interests.”172Id. Instead of committees that were unrepresentative of the whole Congress, party policy committees would reflect the wishes of a broader, national coalition. Senator La Follette envisioned that “the policy committees would be an advisory superstructure on the simplified committee system.”173Id. Senator La Follette’s arguments echoed the report of the JCOC, which he chaired and which also viewed Congress through a similar, parliamentary-style lens: “[I]n a democracy national problems must be handled on a national basis. . . . [where o]nly through the expression of the will of the people by their support of political parties on the basis of their platform pledges can the majority will be determined.”174Cooper, supra note 109, at 241. Congress could be reformed into a national legislature with the responsibility for advancing a national program only if party responsibility could be integrated into the existing decentralized committee structure.

Senator La Follette regretted that this part of the LRA was not enacted. “The importance of providing machinery for a unified legislative program and over-all planning cannot be over-emphasized,” he argued.175La Follette, supra note 170, at 64. “Lack of such planning and of unity of objectives is at the root of certain congressional weaknesses that are frequently attributed to other causes.”176Id. Without this mechanism for disciplining the committees, the final result of the LRA was distorted. As Professor Schickler writes, without the “integrative mechanisms to coordinate committee activities,” the consolidating of the committees actually “reinforc[ed] the already-strong system of powerful standing committees and committee chairmen” that were not representative of the Congress as a whole.177Schickler, supra note 80, at 145. This “tension between broad institutional goals and narrower individual and committee-based objectives compromised the success of the Reorganization Act” and “made the position of party leaders even more difficult,” he concludes.178Id. at 146.

A.     The Post-1946 Evolution of Congress

Therefore, the LRA’s supporters knew that the political dynamics they confronted limited its value. Any attempt to diminish the power of committee chairs, particularly by weakening the seniority principle that protected their autonomy, would have scuttled the other reforms they could achieve. The House’s amendments had struck other approaches to discipline committees. Thus, there were limits to what the LRA could accomplish, but many of its supporters thought they had still made positive steps in enacting the law, particularly in consolidating the committee structure and rendering it more accountable.

The immediate implementation of the LRA, however, thwarted many of these tempered expectations. In addition, Congress’s long-term trajectory—especially at the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first—altered the dynamics between committees and party leaders in ways that Congress could not have foreseen in 1946. In the short term, as Professor Sundquist has written, the provisions of the LRA “turned out . . . to be less than self-executing.”179Sundquist, supra note 82, at 182. Subsequent Congresses simply ignored the LRA’s provisions that sought to constrain committee chairs’ discretion by requiring regularly scheduled meetings, agendas committee members defined rather than the chair, and open records of committee proceedings.180See id. The LRA, therefore, left committee chair power and autonomy largely untouched.181As Professor Sundquist writes, even if a committee could organize to force chairs to comply with the requirement to hold regularly-scheduled meetings, the chair “still had many ways of stalling action. . . . And the Reorganization Act did not deal with some key elements of the chairman’s power, notably his control over the constitution of subcommittees, referral of bills to them, and assignment of staff to facilitate their work.” Id. at 183.

The LRA’s core reform, in fact, augmented the authority of committee chairs, namely the reduction of the number of committees and the defining of their jurisdictions to give them clearer authority over policy. As Walter Kravitz of the Library of Congress wrote, the LRA

vastly expanded the range of policy areas controlled by many committees. These larger jurisdictions, in turn, magnified the influence of the chairs and made their abuses of power more intolerable. Moreover, the fewer the chair positions, the longer a member could expect to wait before succeeding to one under the seniority system.182Walter Kravitz, The Advent of the Modern Congress: The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, 15 Legis. Stud. Q. 375, 376 (1970).

The LRA made the chairs more powerful and made their seniority even more valuable.

Accounts of Congress in the years after 1946 illustrate the authority still wielded by the committee barons. Representative Graham Barden (D-NC), for example, ran the House Committee on Education and Labor—an important committee for the enactment of progressive legislation—with an iron fist. As one junior member of the committee remarked, “Once he became chairman in 1951, Barden could effectively choke any legislation that had a liberal smell to it. He called committee hearings . . . arbitrarily and without warning. He adjourned them when he wished—often suddenly if they took a turn he didn’t like.”183Polsby, supra note 75, at 17 (quoting Carl Elliott & Michael D’Orso, The Cost of Courage 131–33 (1992) (omission in original). He could filibuster hearings, call witnesses to filibuster on his behalf, and generally dominate the committee’s proceedings.184See id. Representative Harold Cooley (D-NC), when chair of the House Agriculture Committee, once told a junior member:

You can attend the meetings, but I’m not going to recognize you to speak. And you won’t be able to amend any bills in the committee. . . . [a]nd nothing you want to do for your district will come out of this committee. Soon as I find out it’s you who wants it, it will be stopped. Let me give you some advice. Get off the committee. You’re a zombie on this committee. You’re a walking, living, dead man.185Id. at 20 (quoting Jeffrey R. Biggs & Tom Foley, Honor in the House: Speaker Tom Foley 37–38 (1999)).

Similar stories of all-powerful committee chairs running roughshod over their colleagues abound.186See id. at 16–20; Sundquist, supra note 82, at 176–87.

At the same time, the committee restructuring, according to Galloway, was the “keystone in the arch of congressional reform.”187Galloway, supra note 168, at 41. But it was undermined by the growth of subcommittees which occurred in the decades following the law’s passage. As Professor Roger Davidson explains, “members’ desires for leadership posts soon frustrated the reformers’ neat design,” and “[t]he proliferation of subcommittees after 1947 further distorted the Reorganization Act’s tidy scheme. . . . [M]any of the old jurisdictional lines surfaced as subcommittees within the newly consolidated committees.”188Davidson, supra note 33, at 366.

The increase in resources for committee staff, as a means of securing more vigilant oversight, was also coopted by committee chairs who wanted to preserve their patronage over such appointments.189See Grisinger, supra note 7, at 125–27. They were successful in eliminating the scheme for a merit system for committee staff and the creation of a director of congressional personnel.190See 92 Cong. Rec. 6561 (1946). Still, the strengthening of committee oversight was, as Davidson puts it, “the most notable legacy of the 1946 act.”191Davidson, supra note 33, at 367. The LRA gave “governmentwide investigating authority” to the Government Operations Committee, and subsequent legislation gave that committee further authority to coordinate the oversight activities of all congressional committees.192See Sundquist, supra note 82, at 325–26. The 1970 LRA expanded the power of the Government Operations Committee. See Kravitz, supra note 182, at 394. But that authority receded in the 1980s. See Sundquist, supra note 82, at 325ؘ–26 (discussing growth of subcommittee oversight committees in the late 1970s).

In short, “relatively few of the major objectives of the Legislative Reorganization Act were achieved.”193Davidson, supra note 33, at 370. The reason is that reformers ran into political opposition that required the weakening of the law’s provisions regarding committee expertise and committee accountability to the chamber as a whole.194See id. at 359; Galloway, supra note 168, at 51–52. While the LRA certainly increased committee oversight of the administrative state, it failed to accomplish that objective in a way that would make the administrative state accountable to Congress (and thus to the will of the people) as a whole. Instead, political scientists identified interest group capture through “iron triangles” as a key problem of the autonomous committee structure abetted by the LRA.195Thomas L. Gais, Mark A. Peterson & Jack L. Walker, Interest Groups, Iron Triangles and Representative Institutions in American National Government, 14 Brit. J. Pol. Sci. 161, 162 (1984).

Changes later in the twentieth century produced a Congress even further from the vision anticipated by the LRA’s supporters. A variety of changes to congressional rules and procedures have increased the Speaker of the House’s control over committee assignments and the Rules Committee, which controls the flow of legislation in the House. The seniority system was ended by the Democratic Party following the 1974 elections.196See Schickler, supra note 80, at 232–33. Committee chairs are subjected to term limits in the House as a result of reforms that followed the Republican Party’s takeover of the House in the 1994 elections.197John H. Aldrich & David W. Rohde, The Transition to Republican Rule in the House: Implications for Theories of Congressional Politics, 112 Pol. Sci. Q. 541, 549–50 (1997). The Senate Majority Leader increasingly uses procedural techniques to avoid amendments in the Senate and closed rules are increasingly the norm in the House, increasing majority party control over the congressional agenda.198See James I. Wallner, The Death of Deliberation: Partisanship and Polarization in the United States Senate 30–31 (2013). If the challenge for the LRA’s supporters in 1946 was a decentralized Congress with power located in autonomous committee chairs, weakening collective oversight of the administrative state, today’s challenge comes from a different source but produces the same result. Party leadership has weakened the committee system to such an extent that committees no longer serve as effective overseers of the bureaucracy.

In short, the law’s terms, its implementation immediately following its passage, and the way Congress functions today never fully accomplished the LRA’s core ideas. Rather than placing Congress in charge of the administrative state, the LRA merely served to consolidate the committee system. The chairs remained autonomous, powerful barons that advanced their own interests rather than ensuring that administrative agencies followed the Congress’s wishes. While the LRA was failing to live up to its promise, in the years following its enactment, the APA was also undergoing a significant transformation.

B.     The Evolution of the APA and Administrative Common Law

As described earlier, many supporters of the APA believed that it was only a first step in the direction of necessary, more fundamental reforms to the administrative state. Yet, just as the LRA’s basic aspects were never fully implemented or followed, there was a significant gap between the APA as written and its operation in practice. As Professor Evan Bernick has explained, “Today, much administrative law related to the APA is administrative common law that has never been grounded in the APA’s text or history.”199Evan D. Bernick, Envisioning Administrative Procedure Act Originalism, 70 Admin. L. Rev. 807, 815 (2018); see also John F. Duffy, Administrative Common Law in Judicial Review, 77 Tex. L. Rev. 113, 115 (1998).

The gap between the APA and its implementation can be seen in a variety of legal issues.200The various areas of administrative law where administrative common law has been developed is ably chronicled by Professor Bernick. SeeBernick, supra note 199, at 817–21. This paragraph merely touches upon a few elements of this development. The APA’s formal rulemaking procedures, for instance, fell into near obsolescence as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Florida East Coast Railway.201United States v. Fla. E. Coast Ry., 410 U.S. 224 (1973); see also Kent Barnett, How the Supreme Court Derailed Formal Rulemaking, 85 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. Arguendo 1, 4 (2017). More significantly, the courts have expanded the APA’s informal rulemaking procedures dramatically.202See Postell, supra note 56, at 283–86. And the scope of review the APA envisioned has been expanded in some contexts, diminished in others.203See Gary Lawson & Stephen Kam, Making Law Out of Nothing At All: The Origins of the ChevronDoctrine, 65 Admin. L. Rev. 1–75 (2013) (discussing the Chevron doctrine and its application in subsequent cases, which was arguably very different from the holding of the case itself). In short, the scope of judicial review over administrative process and substance expanded dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s, at the same time that the LRA was failing to achieve its intended result.

V.     The Decline of the LRA and the Expansion of the APA

These two developments—the expansion of judicial review under the APA and the LRA’s failure to place Congress in full control of the administrative state—are likely linked. The decision of 1946 said, in essence, that the administrative state was here to stay, but that instead of following the president’s will, a reorganized and revitalized Congress would first hold it accountable, with judicial review as the backup. The LRA’s shortcomings disrupted that settlement. But the concern about a presidentially directed administrative state had only become more acute with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office rather than President Harry Truman. Without a Congress that is adequately in control of the bureaucracy, the APA’s provisions for judicial review had to be elaborated, in the minds of reformers, to place meaningful checks on administrative discretion.

Prevailing scholarly accounts of the transformation of the APA, while accurate, tend to overlook this factor in the change. For instance, Professor Bernick writes correctly that agencies’ shift to rulemaking over adjudication combined with “new concerns . . . raised about the bureaucracy” and the possibility of agency capture to produce “novel agency-constraining doctrines” in administrative law.204Bernick, supra note 199, at 816. These two factors are surely critical in explaining the APA’s evolution in the 1960s and 1970s, but the LRA’s failure to place Congress in control of the administrative state surely exacerbated these concerns. In other words, had Congress been able to prevent agency capture and constrain and guide administrative rulemaking, progressives would have been able to use those mechanisms for constraining agencies rather than relying on courts.

This was a tragic outcome. As the congressionally centered approach to controlling the administrative state through the LRA was abandoned, the judicially centered approach through the APA was expanded. Judicial control, however, was never the ideal or primary goal of the reformers in Congress in 1946 who made their peace with the administrative state. Ironically, it was the more conservative coalition that enacted the APA and sought to use the courts to constrain the bureaucracy. Yet their approach, embodied in precursors to the APA such as the Walter–Logan Act, hardly resembled the APA we have today.

This has affected dramatically the way administrative law is taught and understood in the United States. As courts expanded their judicial review, taking the place of congressional authority over the administrative state, administrative law focused almost exclusively on judicial review of administrative action.205Christopher J. Walker, Modernizing the Administrative Procedure Act, 69 Admin. L. Rev. 629, 633–38 (2017). The dynamics of the legislative process and committee oversight have traditionally played a limited role in teaching administrative law.206Id. at 638. But there are signs in the legal scholarship that this may be changing.207This increased interest is visible across the ideological spectrum. For a small sample, see, e.g., Christopher J. Walker, Restoring Congress’s Role in the Modern Administrative State, 116 Mich. L. Rev. 1101 (2018); Neomi Rao, Administrative Collusion: How Delegation Diminishes the Collective Congress, 90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1463 (2015); Abbe R. Gluck, Anne Joseph O’Connell & Rosa Po, Unorthodox Lawmaking, Unorthodox Rulemaking, 115 Colum. L. Rev. 1789 (2015); Abbe R. Gluck & Lisa Schultz Bressman, Statutory Interpretation From the Inside—An Empirical Study of Congressional Drafting, Delegation, and the Canons: Part I, 65 Stan. L. Rev. 901 (2013); Lisa Schultz Bressman & Abbe R. Gluck, Statutory Interpretation From the Inside—An Empirical Study of Congressional Drafting, Delegation, and the Canons: Part II, 66 Stan. L. Rev. 725 (2014). One implication of this Article is that the renewed focus on Congress’s role in administrative law should be encouraged, in spite of the fact that Congress has not assumed the role in the administrative state the LRA’s enactors envisioned.

In sum, the LRA’s failure to establish Congress as the leader of the administrative state has likely played a significant role in the APA’s reinterpretation and the emergence of judicial review as one of the administrative state’s central features. This development in the 1960s and 1970s ran contrary to the expectations of the progressives who first built the administrative state and the reformers who pressed for the enactment of the LRA.

More fundamentally, the LRA’s failure sacrificed the original vision of many LRA proponents, which focused on building a close and ongoing relationship between congressional committees and administrative agencies. While much of this envisioned relationship centered on oversight, reformers also wanted Congress to use its legislative powers to render the administrative state more accountable. As explained above, even the LRA’s more progressive supporters acknowledged the threat to democracy posed by the administrative state, especially if Congress were not placed at the head of it.208See 92 Cong. Rec. 6344 (1946) (statement of Sen. Robert La Follette). On the floor of Congress, Senator La Follette and others emphasized the ongoing process of collaboration between Congress and the administrative state that the LRA would inaugurate.209See, e.g., id. at 6344, 6365, 6371. After the LRA’s passage, other reformers continued to press for Congress and the administrative state to be more deeply integrated, even to the point of physical integration.210See Kefauver & Levin, supra note 40, at 149. However, the LRA’s advocates were not entirely clear about the form in which oversight would be conducted. Given that most of the administrative state’s work in the 1940s consisted of adjudication rather than rulemaking, it is unclear how Senator La Follette and others would want Congress to supervise agencies.

Therefore, what this Article calls the “Decision of 1946” was never realized in practice. An administrative state that Congress would control, with judicial review as a backup, quickly morphed into an administrative state that was constrained by an extensive body of judicially imposed administrative law doctrines, as Congress increasingly faded into the backdrop. Revisiting this original, post-New Deal settlement illustrates an important path not taken in the history of the administrative state—one which is still worth pursuing decades after Congress enacted these major statutes in the summer of 1946.


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