Regulatory Horcruxes

by Sarah E. Light

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Abstract

The regulator that designs and first implements a federal regulatory program does not always have the ability to control the timing and process of how that regulatory program will, in this Symposium’s language, “exit.” As the 2016 election has demonstrated, the initiating regulator cannot necessarily plan in advance for the program’s expiration, diminution, or scaling back. A successor instead wields this power. Whether one views this as a terrible thing or a salutary feature of democracy depends in part upon one’s relationship to the regulatory status quo, but also implicates broader questions about policy stability and democratic accountability. At the very least, however, this fact raises several important questions about strategic regulatory design. First, is it possible to insulate or harden regulatory programs from successor exit? And second, when, if ever, would this be a good thing? This Article offers a systematic account of how regulators can make regulatory exit more challenging by looking outward, beyond the walls of a single, primary federal agency to other potential regulators or co-regulators, including secondary federal agencies, the states, and private actors.

This Article identifies as a potential antidote to regulatory exit a constellation of strategic techniques that I call regulatory horcruxes—much like the horcruxes Lord Voldemort created by placing portions of his soul into multiple external objects in order to ensure his immortality. An initiating regulator, be it Congress or a federal agency, can use such horcruxes in an effort to make successor exit more difficult by splitting programs beyond the walls of a single federal agency into other institutions. This Article first offers an analytical framework laying out five primary types of horcrux. It then examines horcruxes from a normative perspective, evaluating the comparative benefits and costs of their use in terms of their potential impact both on the durability of regulatory programs and on the quality of democratic deliberation. It acknowledges that horcruxes are an imperfect solution. Although dispersal or fragmentation of regulatory authority may insulate a program from deregulatory pressure, the fragmented regulatory program may exist in a weakened form that cannot accomplish as much as more direct, centralized regulation can. The Article concludes by offering a research agenda, including suggestions for further empirical research.

Regulatory Horcruxes

by Sarah E. Light

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

The regulator that designs and first implements a federal regulatory program does not always have the ability to control the timing and process of how that regulatory program will, in this Symposium’s language, “exit.” As the 2016 election has demonstrated, the initiating regulator cannot necessarily plan in advance for the program’s expiration, diminution, or scaling back. A successor instead wields this power. Whether one views this as a terrible thing or a salutary feature of democracy depends in part upon one’s relationship to the regulatory status quo, but also implicates broader questions about policy stability and democratic accountability. At the very least, however, this fact raises several important questions about strategic regulatory design. First, is it possible to insulate or harden regulatory programs from successor exit? And second, when, if ever, would this be a good thing? This Article offers a systematic account of how regulators can make regulatory exit more challenging by looking outward, beyond the walls of a single, primary federal agency to other potential regulators or co-regulators, including secondary federal agencies, the states, and private actors.

This Article identifies as a potential antidote to regulatory exit a constellation of strategic techniques that I call regulatory horcruxes—much like the horcruxes Lord Voldemort created by placing portions of his soul into multiple external objects in order to ensure his immortality. An initiating regulator, be it Congress or a federal agency, can use such horcruxes in an effort to make successor exit more difficult by splitting programs beyond the walls of a single federal agency into other institutions. This Article first offers an analytical framework laying out five primary types of horcrux. It then examines horcruxes from a normative perspective, evaluating the comparative benefits and costs of their use in terms of their potential impact both on the durability of regulatory programs and on the quality of democratic deliberation. It acknowledges that horcruxes are an imperfect solution. Although dispersal or fragmentation of regulatory authority may insulate a program from deregulatory pressure, the fragmented regulatory program may exist in a weakened form that cannot accomplish as much as more direct, centralized regulation can. The Article concludes by offering a research agenda, including suggestions for further empirical research.