In March, the Florida International Law Review hosted a symposium on the Separation of Powers. It was a stellar lineup, including David Bernstein, Ron Rotunda, Lee Strang, Brannon Denning, Jon Adler, and Michael Ramsey. My contribution, Government by Blog Post, is now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract.
During the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama repeatedly turned to this all-too-familiar pattern of executive action. First, the impact of the Affordable Care Act made certain groups worse off. Second, as a result, Congress was pressured to modify the law to alleviate these negative externalities from the law. However, Democrats feared that Republicans would seize the opportunity to unravel other portions of the law. This halted any possible bipartisan support for legislative amendments. Third, in the face of this gridlock, President Obama turned to executive action to alter the ACA’s onerous mandates. Specifically, he delayed and suspended the individual and employer mandates, as well as modified provisions affecting benefits for Congressional employees and coverage in the U.S. territories.
Each of these executive actions—implemented through formal notice-and-comment rulemaking or informal social-media blogging—came as a complete surprise. Each change posed risks to the long-term sustainability of the law. Each change relied on tenuous readings of the statute, and dubious assertions of executive authority to accomplish ends entirely at odds with what Congress designed. Each action was contested in court by states and private parties. However, because the executive actions had the effect of lifting burdens, rather than imposing any injuries, the government vigorously contested that no one had standing to bring suit. As a result, the ultimate legality of these moves was decided not by the courts, but by the President, who desperately acted alone to salvage his signature law.
One of the more disconcerting aspects of the law’s implementation, beyond the numerous delays and waivers, has been the cavalier approach by which the government announced these changes. It soon became a painful pastime of ferreting through these massive document dumps and attempting to find the actual basis for the rule previously announced in the blog post. And invariably, the policy, as stated in the blog post, doesn’t quite match up what is in the rule. This was no longer a government of law, but a government by blog post.
This article was part of a symposium on the separation of powers hosted by the Florida International University Law Review.