Evaluating Remand Without Vacatur
A New Judicial Remedy for Defective Agency Rulemakings
Once the D.C. Circuit has concluded that a rule promulgated by an agency is in some way arbitrary or capricious, the court has at least two options: It can either vacate the rule, or remand it to the agency without vacating it. In the latter case, the agency can continue to implement the challenged rule while revising its explanation to address the defects identified by the court. This Note analyzes the D.C. Circuit’s application of the remand-without-vacatur (RWV) remedy during the decade since the court articulated a generic test for its use. This Note argues that RWV is most justified in cases where the costs of vacating agency rules are particularly high, and where the benefits in terms of improving the agency’s decisionmaking process are minimal or nonexistent. Based on a survey of the rulemaking cases in which the court has applied RWV, this Note argues that while the test that the D.C. Circuit uses to determine the appropriateness of RWV is consistent with the theoretical underpinnings justifying the remedy, the court’s application of that test is frequently flawed. This Note also documents a response to RWV that is less than ideal; agencies generally respond slowly to RWV judgments, and occasionally do not respond at all. The Note concludes that, while the D.C. Circuit possesses adequate tools to counteract agencies’ tendency to ignore judicial decisions in individual cases, it has employed them too sparingly in recent years. This Note then develops a revised approach that would promote the remedy’s beneficial aspects while limiting its negative effects.