Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, Regulation by Amicus:The Department of Labor’s Policy Making in the Courts

65 Fla. L. Rev. 1223 (2013) |

Deborah Thompson Eisenberg

Prof. Eisenberg

This Article examines the practice of “regulation by amicus”: that is, an agency’s attempt to mold statutory interpretation and establish policy by filing “friend of the court” briefs in private litigation. Since the United States Supreme Court recognized agency amicus interpretations as a source of controlling law entitled to deference in Auer v. Robbins, agencies have used amicus curiae briefs—in strategic and at times aggressive ways—to advance the political agenda of the President in the courts.

Using the lens of the U.S. Department of Labor’s amicus activity in wage and hour cases, this Article explores the tension between the extraordinary power and efficiency of agency amicus policy making on the one hand, with the harms this less transparent approach may inflict on fundamental democratic values such as public participation and separation of powers.

The Article first puts the issue in empirical context by examining the nature and impact of the DOL’s amicus filings in 324 Fair Labor Standards Act cases from the Roosevelt through Obama administrations. To evaluate the normative implications of amicus policy making, the piece then juxtaposes the especially active amicus strategies employed by the Bush administration—which manipulated deference principles to weaken worker protection laws—and the Obama administration—which increased amicus filings to revive enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This Article proposes an analytical framework for judicial review of agency amicus arguments that remains faithful to separation of powers—especially to the legislative public policy established in remedial statutes like the FLSA.

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