NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 93, Number 1

April 2018
Articles

Further from the People? The Puzzle of State Administration

Miriam Seifter

Civil society today vitally supplements the traditional legislative and judicial checks on the powerful federal executive branch. As many commentators have observed, individuals, interest groups, and media outlets actively monitor, expose, and impede federal executive misdeeds. But much of government administration now occurs in the states. State executive branches have burgeoned in size and responsibility in recent decades, and state and national leaders advocate further expanding state authority. Underlying such calls is a notion that states are “closer to the people” than the federal government, and thus more attentive and responsive to the public’s needs. Yet commentators seldom question these premises, and there is scant attention to whether and how civil society constrains administration in the states.

This Article identifies and theorizes the role of civil society oversight at the state level. It finds that state agencies frequently lack the civil society check that commentators celebrate at the federal level. State agencies are, on the whole, less transparent than their federal counterparts, less closely followed by watchdog groups, and less tracked by the shrinking state-level media. These insights complicate certain tenets of federalism theory—those that assume a close connection between state governments and their citizens—while strengthening theories concerned about state-level faction. As a practical matter, civil society oversight is one factor that can help explain serious regulatory failures in the states—and more optimistically, success stories. Finally, attending to civil society oversight can highlight reforms available to those who seek a state government that is more visible to and constrained by its people.

Pardoning Immigrants

Peter L. Markowitz, Lindsay Nash

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, with Trump’s promised immigration crackdown looming, over one hundred advocacy organizations joined forces to urge President Obama to permanently protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants from deportation by pardoning their breaches of civil immigration law. That pardon never materialized and, as expected, the Trump enforcement regime is sowing terror and devastation in immigrant communities nationwide. While it seems unfathomable that the current President would use his pardon power to mitigate even the most extreme applications of our nation’s immigration laws, there is unfortunately no indication that the harshest aspects of the immigration laws are likely to be revised by the current political branches. Accordingly, future Presidents will likely once again face the questions of how they may use prosecutorial discretion generally, and the pardon power specifically, to address the human toll of such laws. Since the Founding, the pardon power has been used primarily to forgive individual criminal convictions. Thus the broad civil immigration pardon, which Obama declined to issue, would have raised novel questions regarding the appropriate boundaries of the presidential pardon power. Resolution of those previously unexplored questions is necessary to help future Presidents determine whether their pardon power can serve as a safety valve to alleviate the disproportionate penalties that our immigration laws have imposed on longtime members of our communities.

This Article explores the novel concept of a civil immigration pardon. Specifically, it closely examines the language and drafting history of the Pardon Clause, exhaustively reviews early and modern pardon practice and jurisprudence, and considers whether a President could, consistent with the Constitution, use that power to protect some of the largest categories of noncitizens currently at risk of deportation. Ultimately, it argues that the President possesses the constitutional authority to categorically pardon broad classes of immigrants for civil violations of the immigration laws and to thereby provide durable and permanent protections against deportation. As millions of noncitizens and their families face a historically unprecedented wave of deportations and as traditional mechanisms for policymaking continue to fail, the immigration pardon offers an important tool for future Presidents to forgive the civil offenses that result in some of the harshest penalties in our nation’s justice system.

Federalism as a Safeguard of Progressive Taxation

Daniel J. Hemel

This Article considers the distributional consequences of the Supreme Court’s federalism jurisprudence over the past quarter century, focusing specifically on the anti-commandeering, anti-coercion, and state sovereign immunity doctrines. The first of these doctrines prevents Congress from compelling the states to administer federal programs; the second prevents Congress from achieving the same result through offers that for practical purposes the states cannot refuse; the third prohibits Congress from abrogating state sovereign immunity outside a limited class of cases. These doctrines vest the states with valuable entitlements and allow the states to sell those entitlements back to Congress for a price. In this respect, the doctrines have an intergovernmental distributional effect, shifting wealth from the federal government to the states.

The distributional consequences of the anti-commandeering, anti-coercion, and state sovereign immunity doctrines are not purely intergovernmental, however. The doctrines also have potential implications for the distribution of wealth across individuals and households. By forcing Congress to bear a larger share of the costs of federal programs, and by shifting some of the costs of liability-imposing statutes from the states to Congress, these doctrines allow the states to raise less revenue and compel Congress to raise more. For a number of historical as well as structural reasons, the federal tax system is dramatically more progressive than even the most progressive state tax systems, and so the reallocation of fiscal responsibility resulting from these federalism doctrines causes more revenue raising to occur via the more progressive system. The likely net effect is a shift in wealth from higher-income households (who bear a larger share of the federal tax burden) to lower- and middle-income households (who would have borne a larger share of the burden of state taxes).

This conclusion comes with a number of caveats. The distributional consequences of the Supreme Court’s federalism doctrines may be moderated—or magnified—by differences in federal and state spending priorities. Moreover, the doctrines may affect the size of government as well as the allocation of fiscal responsibility across levels of government (though the net effect on government size is ambiguous). And the doctrines may have distributional consequences that are not only interpersonal, but also intergenerational. What seems clear from the analysis in this Article is that federalism doctrines affect the distribution of income and wealth in subtle and sometimes unexpected ways, and that a comprehensive understanding of wealth inequality in the United States requires careful attention to key features of our fiscal constitution.