Nondelegation as Constitutional Symbolism

Kristin E. Hickman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The divided Supreme Court in Gundy v. United States and subsequent events have given rise to an expectation that the Court will soon revitalize the nondelegation doctrine by replacing the intelligible principle standard. Some have greeted the prospect of this doctrinal shift with cheers of exaltation, others with cries of impending doom, anticipating the demise of the administrative state. This Foreword contends that these predictions are overblown. Statutory delegations of rulemaking authority and policymaking discretion are more deeply embedded in American law, and are more complicated and variable, than proponents of the doctrine seem willing to acknowledge. The alternatives to the intelligible principle standard proposed by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are piecemeal-case by case, statute by statute, delegation by delegation. Consequently, should the Court replace the intelligible principle standard, the most likely outcome is doctrinal change that is more incremental and symbolic than substantial. More categorical and sweeping alternatives are available. Among them, this Foreword particularly documents the common understanding in the first half of the twentieth century that regulations adopted under statutory delegations of general rulemaking authority (as opposed to specific authority grants) could not be legally binding without violating the nondelegation doctrine. But the Court has expressed little interest in a broad, categorical standard. The decision whether to replace the intelligible principle standard should be evaluated in terms of incremental and symbolic doctrinal change, rather than as the dramatic alteration to the administrative state that some Court observers anticipate. This Foreword offers thoughts in this regard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1142
Number of pages64
JournalGeorge Washington Law Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021

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