Congressional Administration of Foreign Affairs

Longstanding debates over the allocation of foreign affairs power between Congress and the President have reached a stalemate. Wherever the formal line between Congress and the President’s powers is drawn, it is well established that, as a functional matter, even in times of great discord between the two branches, the President wields immense power when he acts in the name of foreign policy or national security.

And yet, while scholarship focuses on the accretion of power in the presidency, presidential primacy is not the end of the story. The fact that the President usually “wins” in foreign affairs does not mean that the position the President ultimately chooses to take is preordained. Questions of foreign policy and national security engage diverse components of the executive branch bureaucracy, which have overlapping jurisdictions and often conflicting biases and priorities. And yet they must arrive at one executive branch position. Thus the process of decision making, the weight accorded the position of any given decision maker, and the context in which the decision is made together shape the ultimate position the President takes.

This Article explores and critiques the foreign policy role Congress can—and does—play in structuring and rearranging the relative powers of those internal actors and the processes they take to reach their decisions, in order to influence and even direct the President’s ultimate position. Having yielded much of the ground on substance, Congress has an opportunity for a second bite at the apple, and may influence the policy directions of the presidency by manipulating its internal workings. There are risks to deploying “process controls,” as I term these measures, in lieu of direct substantive engagement, but I argue that Congress can and should use these tools more instrumentally to influence the course of foreign policy in areas where it is otherwise unlikely to assert itself as a coequal branch and necessary check on presidential power.

Introduction

Longstanding debates over the allocation of foreign affairs power between Congress and the President have reached a stalemate. Wherever the line between Congress and the President’s formal authority is drawn, it is well established that, as a functional matter, even in times of great discord between the two branches, the President wields immense power when he acts in the name of foreign policy or national security.

But presidential primacy is not the end of the story. While the President might wield far-reaching control over the nation’s foreign affairs and national security policies, Congress can shape the President’s position, and thus the foreign policy of the United States, without necessarily mandating the substance of that policy itself.

This Article explores and critiques the foreign policy role Congress can—and does—play through structuring and rearranging the relative powers of internal executive branch actors and the processes they take to reach their decisions, in order to influence and even direct the President’s ultimate position. Having yielded much of the ground on substance, Congress has an opportunity for a second bite at the apple, and may influence the policy directions of the presidency simply by manipulating its internal workings.

A recent example illustrates the point. In 2017, the newly elected President threatened a trade war with China, Mexico, Canada and other longtime allies and competitors around the globe, proposing high tariffs on imports of steel and specific products, such as foreign-made vehicles.1.The President’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda,Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (2017), https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2017/AnnualReport/Chapter%20I%2­0-%20The%20President%27s%20Trade%20Policy%20Agenda.pdf [https://perma.cc/GV4T-6289]; Bob Bryan & Elena Holodny, Trump’s Considering a Tariff That Could Put the Economy on a Path to ‘Global Recession,’ Business Insider (June 30, 2017, 10:24 AM), https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-steel-tariff-china-germany-japan-global-recession-2017-6 [https://perma.cc/S2QY-YNL8]; Peter S. Goodman, Trump’s Trade War May Have Already Begun, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30­/business/economy/trumps-mexico-china-tariff-trade.html [https://perma.cc/M5WH-PMVR].Show More His own political party controlled the House and Senate, but there was little appetite in Congress for raising tariffs. So he turned inward, looking to his own cabinet to effectuate his plans. Government lawyers dusted off a rarely-used delegation from Congress, Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which permits the President to adjust restrictions on imports when the Secretary of Commerce finds that they impose a threat to national security.2.19 U.S.C. § 1862(b)–(c) (2012). Prior to the Trump Presidency, presidential authority to impose tariffs had only been exercised a total of five times across the authority’s sixty-four-year existence that began with a temporary authorization in 1955. Rachel F. Fefer et al., Cong. Research Serv., R45249, Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress app. b, at 35 (2018).Show More

With his statutory authority contingent upon meeting this procedural requirement, the President demanded that the Commerce Secretary consider the effects on national security of steel and aluminum imports, asserting meanwhile, in an expansive interpretation of this statutory exception, that the nation’s economic welfare is itself a matter of national security.3.Memorandum on Aluminum Imports and Threats to National Security, 2017 Daily Comp. Pres. Doc. 284 (Apr. 27, 2017); Memorandum on Steel Imports and Threats to National Security, 2017 Daily Comp. Pres. Doc. 259 (Apr. 20, 2017).Show More The Secretary of Commerce, following the statute’s requirements, consulted with the Secretary of Defense, who told him, in a diplomatically-worded missive, that the adjustments proposed by Commerce were in fact unnecessary for national security, and could have negative consequences for U.S. relationships with important allies.4.Letter from James N. Mattis, Sec’y of Def., to Wilbur L. Ross Jr., Sec’y of Commerce (2018), https://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/department_of_defense_memo_respo­nse_to_steel_and_aluminum_policy_recommendations.pdf [https://perma.cc/HA7Y-UWL6] [hereinafter Letter from Mattis to Ross] (“As noted in both Section 232 reports, however, the U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about three percent of U.S. production. Therefore, DoD does not believe that the findings in the reports impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements.”).Show More Those steps taken, and despite the Defense Secretary’s warning, the President moved ahead on the Commerce Secretary’s report, imposing additional tariffs on both steel and aluminum imports.5.Fefer et al., supra note 2, at 7. The President also negotiated exceptions on a country-by-country basis. Id. at 7–9.Show More

Members of the President’s own party in Congress issued unusual rebukes of the President’s action, denouncing the measures as a “tax hike on American manufacturers, workers and consumers,”6.Press Release, U.S. Senate Comm. on Fin., Hatch Statement on Steel, Aluminum Tariffs (Mar. 8, 2018), https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/hatch-statement-on-steel-al­uminum-tariffs [https://perma.cc/42YF-KMX8].Show More asking the President to dial back the global tariffs,7.Vicki Needham, Ways and Means Sets Hearing on Trump’s Tariffs, The Hill(Apr. 5, 2018, 5:17 PM),https://thehill.com/policy/finance/381875-ways-and-means-set-hearing-on-trump­s-tariffs [https://perma.cc/AN9E-98LU].Show More and most recently passing legislation mandating a report from the Secretary of Commerce.8.Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-93, § 112, 133 Stat. 2317, 2395–96 (2019) (requiring publication of the Secretary of Commerce’s findings in automobiles and automotive parts market within thirty days of enactment). The Administration has thus far resisted complying with this provision. SeeSteven A. Engel, Office of Legal Counsel, Publication of a Report to the President on the Effect of Automobile and Automobile-Part Imports on the National Security 1–2 (Jan. 17, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/olc/­opinion/file/1236426/download [https://perma.cc/YYC3-AHW6] (arguing that President may assert executive privilege over Secretary of Commerce’s automobile and automobile parts report).Show More Congress did not, however, exercise its power to withdraw the President’s authority to adjust imports, an authority that Congress itself had given to the President through increasingly expansive delegations since the 1930s.9.See infra Subsection II.C.1 (detailing historical development of the national security justification for imposing tariffs).Show More

Yet congressional reticence to reassert dominance over trade policy is not the end of the story. There is another tool of control that members of Congress might deploy and which, despite increasingly relinquishing power to the President, Congress has used several times before in order to influence the direction of U.S. trade policy. And that is to restructure the decision-making process inside the executive branch in order to preference decision makers and processes more likely to favor their preferred outcomes.

Indeed, members of Congress have introduced several bills seeking to do just that. In 2018 and 2019, several bipartisan groups of lawmakers introduced bills in both the House and Senate to retract from the Secretary of Commerce the power to invoke a national security justification for raising tariffs on foreign imports.10 10.Trade Security Act of 2019, S. 365, 116th Cong. (2019); Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019, S. 287, 116th Cong. (2019); H.R. 6923, 115th Cong. § 4 (2018); S. 3329, 115th Cong. § 2 (2018).Show More The bills would grant that power instead to the Secretary of Defense—the very cabinet secretary who had, as the bill proponents surely noticed, criticized the Commerce Secretary’s proposed indiscriminate tariffs.11 11.See Letter from Mattis to Ross, supranote 4. Former Defense Secretary Mattis resigned between the 2018 and 2019 bill proposals, but press releases accompanying the 2019 proposals, such as one stating the purpose was to counter “misuse” of the national security justification and “to ensure that the statute is used for genuine national security purposes,” suggest that bill proponents view the Defense Department’s constraining effect on the use of the national security justification as departmental rather than unique to Mattis. See Press Release, Sen. Rob Portman, Portman, Jones, Ernst, Alexander, Feinstein, Fischer, Sinema & Young Introduce Trade Security Act to Reform National Security Tariff Process (Feb. 6, 2019), https://www.portman.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/portman-jones-ernst-alexa­nder-feinstein-fischer-sinema-young-introduce [https://perma.cc/4DQZ-AVE4] [hereinafter Press Release, Sen. Rob Portman].Show More Such micro-management over the executive branch decision maker is not an untested tool for Congress. In fact, the bills would make the Office of the Defense Secretary at least the sixth distinct congressionally designated executive branch office to wield that authority since Congress began delegating away its power over the nation’s trade policy.12 12.See generally Edward E. Groves, A Brief History of the 1988 National Security Amendments, 20 Law & Pol’y Int’l Bus. 589, 590–93 (1989) (detailing the ways in which Congress has empowered other agencies to conduct trade policy). The executive agents who have been tasked with fulfilling the requirements of Section 232 include: Director of Defense Mobilization (1955), Director of the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (1958), Director of the Office of Emergency Planning (1962), Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968), Secretary of the Treasury (1974), and Secretary of Commerce (1979). Id.Show More

Why might members of Congress who want to challenge the President’s trade policies deploy an indirect tool of micro-management over the executive branch’s decision-making process, rather than simply direct the policy themselves through substantive legislation? And could such an indirect tool have any real effect?

In fact, indirect tools such as the choice of executive branch decision maker or the restructuring of internal decision-making processes can entirely redirect the President’s policy outcomes, and members of Congress often have reason to prefer these mechanisms to more direct legislation. Thus, while Congress may defer or even delegate to the President on matters of substantive foreign policy—and while members of Congress may not rest assured that the President will implement their will even when they do mandate substance—Congress may nevertheless shape the nation’s foreign policy through what I term “congressional administration.”13 13.I use this term as a congressional corollary to then-Professor Elena Kagan’s “Presidential Administration,” which she identified as presidential control of the bureaucracy as a means to advance “the President’s own policy and political agenda,” particularly in the face of political obstacles to doing so through other means. Elena Kagan, Presidential Administration, 114 Harv. L. Rev. 2245, 2248 (2001). Professor Jack Beermann uses this term directly, to describe Congress’s ongoing involvement in the “day to day administration of the law.” Jack M. Beermann, Congressional Administration, 43 San Diego L. Rev. 61, 64 (2006).Show More

Congressional administration, as I define it here, is the management and manipulation of internal executive branch decision-making processes for the purpose of advancing a substantive agenda. Congress has an array of measures that it may deploy to influence the nation’s foreign policy, short of mandating the substance itself. These “process controls” include familiar tools such as agency design and procedural requirements, but they also include the designation and reassignment of decision makers within the executive branch. Each of these may be deployed for different purposes, with different effects and risks, and each may have significant effects on the ultimate policy direction the United States takes.

This Article sits at the intersection of two broad bodies of literature: one on congressional-executive turf wars over foreign affairs and national security, and one on agency design and political control over the bureaucracy. Scholars have long debated the proper constitutional allocation of power between the President and Congress over the direction of the nation’s foreign policy. As a practical matter, however, the conventional wisdom holds that “the President (almost) always wins in foreign affairs.”14 14.Harold Hongju Koh, Why the President (Almost) Always Wins in Foreign Affairs: Lessons of the Iran-Contra Affair, 97 Yale L.J.1255, 1291 (1988); see also Aaron Wildavsky, The Two Presidencies, 4 Trans-Action 7 (1966) (arguing that presidents typically receive support or, at least, a lack of pushback from Congress on their foreign policy agenda).Show More The reasons for presidential primacy are legion: institutional competence; asymmetrical expertise and information; and more costs than benefits to Congress in engaging. Moreover, many argue that even when Congress does engage directly and substantively on a matter, the President often manages to assert authority to act, either by interpreting his statutory authorities broadly,15 15.See Libya and War Powers: Hearing Before the S. Comm. on Foreign Relations, 112th Cong. 7–11 (2011) (statement of Harold Koh, Legal Adviser, U.S. Dept. of State); see also Adrian Vermeule, Our Schmittian Administrative Law, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 1095 (2009) (arguing that administrative law is sufficiently vague to enable Presidents to act without constraint at the invocation of an emergency, and that this is inevitable).Show More or by claiming a constitutional prerogative to act unilaterally,16 16.See Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2086 (2015).Show More or even by skirting the legal constraints altogether.17 17.For a bit of all three, see Memorandum from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, Exec. Office of the President (Aug. 1, 2002), https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/886061/download [https://perma.­cc/AM56-F4TD].Show More

But the fact that the President usually “wins” vis-à-vis Congress does not mean that the position the President ultimately chooses to take is preordained. Nor does it mean that the policy the President ultimately adopts at the end of what is often a long and contentious decision-making process is the one he would have chosen if all possible options were simply laid out before him at the outset. In fact, presidential primacy does not even mean that the policy the President ultimately adopts has actually received the personal sign-off of the President.

Indeed there is another dynamic beyond that of the President-Congress relationship that is essential to understanding foreign policy positioning and is as much of a hotbed for diversity of opinion. This is the multi-faceted, many-headed organism that is the executive branch bureaucracy. That there is a diversity of opinion within the executive branch, especially on matters of foreign policy and national security, should be clear these days to anyone who picks up a newspaper.18 18.Or, if this is anachronistic, then to anyone who is on Twitter.Show More That the process for decision making inside the executive branch influences the resulting policies is perhaps less intuitive, particularly to those who envision a unitary executive headed by a willful President with his fingers in every pot. And yet it is so. Furthermore, there exist opportunities for influencing these processes, and thus the resulting policy, from the outside. Of specific relevance here, Congress has robust means at its disposal to shape these processes and thus the resulting decision.

I have written previously about the multiplicity of decision makers, processes, overlapping interests, and conflicting proclivities inside the executive branch, and the potential for external actors to shape the President’s positions by triggering different decision-making pathways.19 19.Rebecca Ingber, Interpretation Catalysts and Executive Branch Legal Decisionmaking, 38 Yale J. Int’l L.359, 369–73 (2013) [hereinafter Ingber, Interpretation Catalysts].Show More I focused in prior work on the role of litigants, nongovernmental organizations, and international treaty bodies in prompting different processes and the potential for achieving different outcomes.20 20.Id.Show More But members of Congress have far greater opportunities than most for triggering and even for restructuring different decision-making pathways, including for designating their preferred internal official as the decider over a given matter.

While executive branch decision making may at times appear opaque from the outside—particularly in the realm of foreign policy and national security—savvy government watchers, scholars, and even members of Congress can often glean a sense of its inner workings: which matters are subject to internal debate, who within the administration may be inclined toward particular policies, and where the pressure points lie for decision making.21 21.In fact, members of Congress often have significant ties to the executive branch both through their own personal relationship to members of the political class within the administration and through staffers’ often deep connections to agencies through prior positions, former colleagues, and the fact that they are repeat players on specific issues. See, e.g., Ashley Deeks, Statutory International Law, 57 Va. J. Int’l L. 263, 296–97 (2018).Show More Actors inclined to lean into these pressure points may therefore find they can influence policy outcomes simply by exerting influence on the shape of executive branch decision making.

Members of Congress have especially potent tools for shaping the process of decision making, through legislation directly creating procedural requirements or designating decision makers, as well as through “soft” mechanisms such as requests for testimony from particular executive branch officials,22 22.See Josh Chafetz, Congress’s Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers 3 (2017) (arguing that Congress has many tools, including both “hard” like appropriations and “soft” like speech, which it underutilizes).Show More all of which can shape and shift presidential priorities, force to a head executive branch decisions, exacerbate internal tensions, or place a thumb on the scale in favor of a particular set of actors engaged in intra-executive branch conflict. Through the use of these process controls, Congress can and does shape the process of executive branch decision making and influence policy without necessarily mandating a particular substantive outcome.

This Article proceeds as follows: Part I first considers scholarly debates over the legal and practical allocation of the foreign affairs power, including the extent to which Congress is able effectively to constrain the President in this sphere. Acknowledging the practical reality of presidential primacy in matters of foreign affairs, it turns to scholarship considering the interaction of Congress with the internal workings of the executive branch bureaucracy. This scholarship largely brackets off the fields of foreign policy and national security, thus bringing insights from administrative law and political science scholarship on political control of the bureaucracy to bear on debates about the allocation of foreign policy power is one contribution of this Article.

Part II introduces and classifies what I term “process controls,” the mechanisms that Congress may deploy to influence the executive branch decision-making process, and through it, the shape of foreign policy. Two types of measures that I include within the term process controls—agency design and the imposition of administrative procedures—have been the subject of significant scholarship in both administrative law and political science.23 23.See infra Part II.Show More I therefore consider these each in turn in order to examine their relevance and influence on questions of foreign policy and national security, which are generally excluded from scholarship concerning agency design and administrative procedure.

I devote the majority of this Part, and of the Article, to identifying and analyzing a specific type of process control that has not been the focus of scholarship: the designation of executive branch decision makers. Among the controls I discuss in this Article, Congress wields significant, targeted control over decision making inside the executive branch simply through its choice of the intra-executive decider. This is not a one-off decision; Congress may—and does—reassign the decision maker as new events arise or policy preferences shift. Members of Congress thus may seek to shift a delegation of authority horizontally, from one executive branch official or office to another who may espouse policy preferences more in sync with their own. Or they may allocate power vertically, such as upward toward a high-level official if they are looking to increase political accountability for a decision, or downward to professionals and technocrats when seeking to buffer an issue from partisan politics. Or they may try to diffuse power, perhaps as a means of constraining government action, by requiring consultation among or even certification by several different officials.

Part III considers the implications of Congress turning to process controls to shape foreign policy. It considers when and why Congress might turn to process controls over more direct efforts to mandate substance, and which particular process controls are likely to be effective at implementing particular purposes. This Part also probes the unique constitutional questions raised by congressional administration of foreign policy, as well as the risks at stake—risks to good government and to accountability for decision making.

In considering the influence of internal decision makers and processes on executive branch policy and Congress’s ability to influence its direction through these processes, this Article also adds texture to debates about a “unitary executive” model of executive branch decision making. I discuss the implications of process controls for formal doctrine and the potential for judicial review in Part III. But the influence of process controls on policy I discuss in this paper more broadly provides a functional critique of unitary executive theory. Wherever the line ultimately falls on the formal powers of the President over those within the executive branch, the multiplicity of decision makers and processes will always provide practical opportunities for influencing and even manipulating executive branch policies, from within the executive branch and without.

Congress has ceded significant ground to the President on matters of foreign policy and national security, and continues to do so, often abdicating its responsibility to craft policy or to provide substantive, rigorous oversight. Moreover, Congress has at times lost ground to the President even when it has attempted to assert its prerogative.24 24.See Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2086 (2015).Show More But this Article nevertheless challenges views of the presidency as completely untethered to law or to congressional constraint. Congress may be overly timid in this space, and it may at times be ineffective. But it can and does exercise its power to shape foreign policy short of mandating substance, and it could deploy these process controls even more instrumentally to impel decision making in its preferred direction. Though the focus here is on foreign policy and national security decision making, this con­sideration of process controls has relevance beyond these spheres, to still-nascent questions of how Congress interacts with the levers and pulleys effectuating decisions inside the executive branch.

  1. * Associate Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law, and Senior Fellow, Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law. I am indebted to Julian Arato, Jack Beermann, Pam Bookman, Curt Bradley, Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Josh Chafetz, Kathleen Claussen, Ashley Deeks, Kristen Eichensehr, Ryan Goodman, Rebecca Hamilton, Kathryn Kovacs, Harold Krent, Gary Lawson, David Lewis, Henry Monaghan, David Noll, Anne Joseph O’Connell, Nicholas Parrillo, David Pozen, Michael Ramsey, Robert Sloane, Peter Spiro, Kevin Stack, and Matthew Waxman, as well as participants at the Duke-Yale Foreign Relations Law Roundtable, the Vanderbilt International Law Roundtable, the NYU Hauser Colloquium, the Berkeley Law Public Law & Policy Workshop, the Junior International Law Scholars Association Workshop, the AALS New Voices in Administrative Law workshop, the Fourth Annual Administrative Law New Scholarship Roundtable, and faculty workshops at Brooklyn, BU, Cardozo, Hastings, Fordham, and Rutgers Law, for generous discussions and feedback on drafts at many stages of this project. For excellent research assistance, I thank Chloe Aubuchon, James Black, Caroline Lambert, and Tyler Shearer.

  2. The President’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
    (2017)

    , https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/reports/2017/AnnualReport/Chapter%20I%2­0-%20The%20President%27s%20Trade%20Policy%20Agenda.pdf [https://perma.cc/GV4T-6289]; Bob Bryan & Elena Holodny, Trump’s Considering a Tariff That Could Put the Economy on a Path to ‘Global Recession,’ Business Insider (June 30, 2017, 10:24 AM), https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-steel-tariff-china-germany-japan-global-recession-2017-6 [https://perma.cc/S2QY-YNL8]; Peter S. Goodman, Trump’s Trade War May Have Already Begun, N.Y. Times

    (

    Jan. 30, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30­/business/economy/trumps-mexico-china-tariff-trade.html [https://perma.cc/M5WH-PMVR].

  3. 19 U.S.C. § 1862(b)–(c) (2012). Prior to the Trump Presidency, presidential authority to impose tariffs had only been exercised a total of five times across the authority’s sixty-four-year existence that began with a temporary authorization in 1955. Rachel F. Fefer et al., Cong. Research Serv., R45249, Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress app. b, at 35 (2018).
  4. Memorandum on Aluminum Imports and Threats to National Security, 2017 Daily Comp. Pres. Doc. 284 (Apr. 27, 2017); Memorandum on Steel Imports and Threats to National Security, 2017 Daily Comp. Pres. Doc. 259 (Apr. 20, 2017).
  5. Letter from James N. Mattis, Sec’y of Def., to Wilbur L. Ross Jr., Sec’y of Commerce (2018), https://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/department_of_defense_memo_respo­nse_to_steel_and_aluminum_policy_recommendations.pdf [https://perma.cc/HA7Y-UWL6] [hereinafter Letter from Mattis to Ross] (“As noted in both Section 232 reports, however, the U.S. military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about three percent of U.S. production. Therefore, DoD does not believe that the findings in the reports impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements.”).
  6. Fefer et al., supra note 2, at 7. The President also negotiated exceptions on a country-by-country basis. Id. at 7–9.
  7. Press Release, U.S. Senate Comm. on Fin., Hatch Statement on Steel, Aluminum Tariffs (Mar. 8, 2018), https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/hatch-statement-on-steel-al­uminum-tariffs [https://perma.cc/42YF-KMX8].
  8. Vicki Needham, Ways and Means Sets Hearing on Trump’s Tariffs, The Hill

    (Apr. 5, 2018, 5:17 PM), https://thehill.com/policy/finance/381875-ways-and-means-set-hearing-on-trump­s-tariffs [https://perma.cc/AN9E-98LU].

  9. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, Pub. L. No. 116-93, § 112, 133 Stat. 2317, 2395–96 (2019) (requiring publication of the Secretary of Commerce’s findings in automobiles and automotive parts market within thirty days of enactment). The Administration has thus far resisted complying with this provision. See Steven A. Engel, Office of Legal Counsel, Publication of a Report to the President on the Effect of Automobile and Automobile-Part Imports on the National Security 1–2 (Jan. 17, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/olc/­opinion/file/1236426/download [https://perma.cc/YYC3-AHW6] (arguing that President may assert executive privilege over Secretary of Commerce’s automobile and automobile parts report).
  10. See infra Subsection II.C.1 (detailing historical development of the national security justification for imposing tariffs).
  11. Trade Security Act of 2019, S. 365, 116th Cong. (2019); Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019, S. 287, 116th Cong. (2019); H.R. 6923, 115th Cong. § 4 (2018); S. 3329, 115th Cong. § 2 (2018).
  12. See Letter from Mattis to Ross, supra note 4. Former Defense Secretary Mattis resigned between the 2018 and 2019 bill proposals, but press releases accompanying the 2019 proposals, such as one stating the purpose was to counter “misuse” of the national security justification and “to ensure that the statute is used for genuine national security purposes,” suggest that bill proponents view the Defense Department’s constraining effect on the use of the national security justification as departmental rather than unique to Mattis. See Press Release, Sen. Rob Portman, Portman, Jones, Ernst, Alexander, Feinstein, Fischer, Sinema & Young Introduce Trade Security Act to Reform National Security Tariff Process (Feb. 6, 2019), https://www.portman.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/portman-jones-ernst-alexa­nder-feinstein-fischer-sinema-young-introduce [https://perma.cc/4DQZ-AVE4] [hereinafter Press Release, Sen. Rob Portman].
  13. See generally Edward E. Groves, A Brief History of the 1988 National Security Amendments, 20 Law & Pol’y Int’l Bus.
    589, 590–93 (1989) (

    detailing the ways in which Congress has empowered other agencies to conduct trade policy)

    . T

    he executive agents who have been tasked with fulfilling the requirements of Section 232 include: Director of Defense Mobilization (1955), Director of the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (1958), Director of the Office of Emergency Planning (1962), Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968), Secretary of the Treasury (1974), and Secretary of Commerce (1979). Id.

  14. I use this term as a congressional corollary to then-Professor Elena Kagan’s “Presidential Administration,” which she identified as presidential control of the bureaucracy as a means to advance “the President’s own policy and political agenda,” particularly in the face of political obstacles to doing so through other means. Elena Kagan, Presidential Administration,
    114

    Harv. L. Rev. 2

    245, 2248 (2001)

    . Professor Jack Beermann uses this term directly, to describe Congress’s ongoing involvement in the “day to day administration of the law.” Jack M. Beermann, Congressional Administration, 43 San Diego L. Rev. 61, 64 (2006).

  15. Harold Hongju Koh, Why the President (Almost) Always Wins in Foreign Affairs: Lessons of the Iran-Contra Affair, 97 Yale L.J.

    1255, 1291 (1988); see also Aaron Wildavsky, The Two Presidencies,

    4

    Trans-Action 7

    (1966) (

    arguing that presidents typically receive support or, at least, a lack of pushback from Congress on their foreign policy agenda)

    .

  16. See Libya and War Powers: Hearing Before the S. Comm. on Foreign Relations, 112th Cong. 7–11 (2011) (statement of Harold Koh, Legal Adviser, U.S. Dept. of State); see also Adrian Vermeule, Our Schmittian Administrative Law, 122 Harv. L. Rev. 1095 (2009) (arguing that administrative law is sufficiently vague to enable Presidents to act without constraint at the invocation of an emergency, and that this is inevitable).
  17. See Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2086 (2015).
  18. For a bit of all three, see Memorandum from Jay S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, Exec. Office of the President (Aug. 1, 2002), https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/886061/download [https://perma.­cc/AM56-F4TD].
  19. Or, if this is anachronistic, then to anyone who is on Twitter.
  20. Rebecca Ingber, Interpretation Catalysts and Executive Branch Legal Decisionmaking, 38 Yale J. Int’l L.

    359, 369–73 (2013) [hereinafter Ingber, Interpretation Catalysts].

  21. Id.
  22. In fact, members of Congress often have significant ties to the executive branch both through their own personal relationship to members of the political class within the administration and through staffers’ often deep connections to agencies through prior positions, former colleagues, and the fact that they are repeat players on specific issues. See, e.g., Ashley Deeks, Statutory International Law, 57 Va. J. Int’l L. 263, 296–97 (2018).
  23. See Josh Chafetz
    ,

    Congress’s Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers 3 (2017) (arguing that Congress has many tools, including both “hard” like appropriations and “soft” like speech, which it underutilizes).

  24. See infra Part II.
  25. See Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2086 (2015).

Intervention

Ever since the late 1960s, many lower federal courts have interpreted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to give outsiders broad rights to become parties to pending lawsuits. Intervention of this sort affects the dynamics of a lot of cases, including many of the highest-profile cases that the federal courts hear. Yet it raises fundamental questions about the structure of litigation: Should status as a party be limited to people who have legal claims or defenses, or do the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure invite intervention by everyone who will feel the practical effects of a judgment? For the last half century, many federal judges and law professors have pushed for expansive understandings of the right to intervene. That impulse is consistent with the “interest representation” model of litigation, which analogizes judicial decisionmaking to other types of policymaking and touts the benefits of broad participation. According to this Article, however, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instead reflect a more traditional view of litigation, under which the parties to a case need to be proper parties to a claim for relief.

Introduction

The American system of civil litigation draws important differences between the parties to a case and everyone else. For instance, each party to a suit in federal district court normally can use the full panoply of discovery mechanisms to demand information from other people, and the court stands ready to enforce those demands. Nonparties have no similar power to gather information, even in cases that may affect their interests.1.See Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(a) (authorizing “[a] party” to take depositions); Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a) (authorizing “a party” to propound interrogatories to any other party); Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a) (authorizing “[a] party” to demand documents and electronically stored information from any other party); Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(a)(3) (enabling “a party” to use subpoenas duces tecum to obtain documents and electronically stored information from nonparties).Show More Likewise, when the district court enters judgment, only a party normally can appeal.2.See, e.g., Marino v. Ortiz, 484 U.S. 301, 304 (1988) (per curiam); cf.Sky Cable, LLC v. DIRECTV, Inc., 886 F.3d 375, 384 (4th Cir. 2018) (discussing a “limited exception” to this general rule).Show More The judgment’s preclusive effect is correspondingly limited: although the practical consequences of a judgment can radiate outward, typically only the parties are formally bound.3.See Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 893–95 (2008) (identifying some categories of nonparty preclusion, but casting them as exceptions to the general rule).Show More

Given the importance of the distinction between parties and other people, one might expect federal courts to have thought hard about who is eligible to become a party. Under the rubric of “standing” to sue, there has indeed been much discussion of who can initiate a suit in federal court against whom. Once a suit is launched, though, outsiders who are interested in the outcome often seek to intervene as additional parties so that they can conduct discovery, participate fully at trial, and pursue an appeal in the event of an adverse judgment. The law governing such motions is a mess.

The rules that govern intervention in civil actions in federal district court might seem straightforward. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a) says:

On timely motion, the court must permit anyone to intervene who:

(1) is given an unconditional right to intervene by a federal statute; or

(2) claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant’s ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.4.Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) (emphasis added).Show More

Rule 24(b)(1) adds:

On timely motion, the court may permit anyone to intervene who:

(A) is given a conditional right to intervene by a federal statute; or

(B) has a claim or defense that shares with the main action a common question of law or fact.5.Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b)(1) (emphasis added).Show More

Of these two provisions, Rule 24(b)(1) is easier to interpret. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure consistently use the word “claim” to mean a “claim for relief.”6.See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (specifying what must appear in “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief,” and requiring “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a) (discussing joinder of claims); Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (discussing judgment “[w]hen an action presents more than one claim for relief—whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim”); see also Simona Grossi, The Claim, 55 Hous. L. Rev. 1, 7 (2017) (referring to the claim as “the basic litigation unit” under the Rules).Show More Likewise, a “defense” is a particular type of legal argument that the targets of a claim assert to explain why the court should not grant relief against them.7.See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(1)(A) (“In responding to a pleading, a party must . . . state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it . . . .”).Show More If these words mean the same thing in Rule 24(b)(1) that they mean elsewhere in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, then (in the absence of special statutory authorization) an outsider cannot use Rule 24(b) to become a party to a case simply because the outsider has a practical stake in the outcome. Instead, the outsider needs to be a proper party to a claim for relief. Many judges, however, now permit intervention “even in ‘situations where the existence of any nominate “claim” or “defense” is difficult to find.’”8.EEOC v. Nat’l Children’s Ctr., 146 F.3d 1042, 1046 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Nuesse v. Camp, 385 F.2d 694, 704 (D.C. Cir. 1967) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). But see City of Herriman v. Bell, 590 F.3d 1176, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010) (“[T]o intervene under Rule 24(b) the proposed intervenor must have a claim or defense that shares at least some aspect with a claim or defense presented in the main action. Here, . . . Herriman City has no claim and thus cannot satisfy Rule 24(b)’s requirements.”).Show More

The criteria for intervention of right under Rule 24(a) are even less certain. In the words of a leading treatise, “There is not any clear definition of the nature of the ‘interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of [the] action’ that is required for intervention of right [under Rule 24(a)(2)].”9.7C Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1908.1, at 300 (3d ed. 2007).Show More Commentators agree that the cases on this topic are impossible to reconcile.10 10.See Susan Bandes, The Idea of a Case, 42 Stan. L. Rev. 227, 250–51, 254 (1990) (noting “the lack of consensus about the type of interest needed for intervention” and citing many different formulations); Carl Tobias, Standing to Intervene, 1991 Wis. L. Rev. 415, 434 n.132 (concluding that, if anything, “Professor Bandes may have underestimated the number of formulations and the degree of inconsistency”); Eunice A. Eichelberger, Annotation, What Is “Interest” Relating to Property or Transaction Which Is Subject of Action Sufficient to Satisfy That Requirement for Intervention as Matter of Right Under Rule 24(a)(2) of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 73 A.L.R. Fed. 448, 458 (1985) (“The courts have developed no discernible standards or criteria, other than [a few] general guidelines . . . , which would explain their divergent rulings in cases involving similar types of litigation and proposed intervenors.”).Show More

The confusion stems partly from the language of the rule. Lawyers often use the word “interest” in a specifically legal sense, to mean a right or other advantage that the law gives one person as against another person.11 11.See Restatement of Prop. § 5, Note on the Use of the Word Interest in the Restatement (Am. Law Inst. 1936) (indicating that with the exception of the Restatement of Torts, all the Restatements published by the American Law Institute use “interest” as “a word denoting a legal relation or relations”); see also id. § 5 (“The word ‘interest’ is used in this Restatement both generically to include varying aggregates of rights, privileges, powers and immunities and distributively to mean any one of them.”); Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, Some Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning, 23 Yale L.J. 16, 30 (1913) (laying out the taxonomy of legal relations to which this passage refers); cf. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 1 cmt. f (Am. Law Inst. 1965) (confirming that most of the Restatements use the word “interest” to “denot[e] the beneficial side of legal relations”).Show More (Think, for instance, of what lawyers mean when they refer to present or future “interests” in property.) But the word can also be used in a less technical sense to refer to anything that a person wants, whether or not the law protects that desire.12 12.See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 1(Am. Law Inst. 1965) (“The word ‘interest’ is used throughout the Restatement of this Subject to denote the object of any human desire.”); id. cmt. a (specifying that the word “carries no implication that the interest is or is not given legal protection”).Show More Although lower-court opinions have long reflected this ambiguity,13 13.Compare United States v. Perry Cty. Bd. of Educ., 567 F.2d 277, 279 (5th Cir. 1978) (“[W]e have adopted a somewhat narrow reading of the term ‘interest’ . . . .”), with Mich. State AFL-CIO v. Miller, 103 F.3d 1240, 1245 (6th Cir. 1997) (“This circuit has opted for a rather expansive notion of the interest sufficient to invoke intervention of right.”). See also Conservation Law Found. of New England v. Mosbacher, 966 F.2d 39, 41–42 (1st Cir. 1992) (contrasting the “liberal approach” of the Second, Sixth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits with the “more restrictive criteria” applied in the Fifth, Seventh, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits).Show More the Supreme Court has provided little guidance about the nature of the “interest” required for intervention of right.14 14.See Tobias, supra note 10, at 434 (noting the “relative dearth of Supreme Court precedent”).Show More Nor has the Supreme Court ever clarified exactly how the relevant interest must “relat[e] to” a particular transaction or item of property.

To give readers a sense of how some lower federal courts have handled these uncertainties, Part I of this Article surveys cases that have applied Rule 24(a) broadly. Especially in suits about issues of public moment, many federal judges have read Rule 24 to invite intervention by an extraordinary array of people who are not proper parties to any relevant claim for relief but who nonetheless have reason to care about the outcome of the case. In the late 1960s, Judge Harold Leventhal stated the animating idea behind this interpretation: “[T]he ‘interest’ test is primarily a practical guide to disposing of lawsuits by involving as many apparently concerned persons as is compatible with efficiency and due process.”15 15.Nuesse v. Camp, 385 F.2d 694, 700 (D.C. Cir. 1967); accord Smuck v. Hobson, 408 F.2d 175, 179–80 (D.C. Cir. 1969) (en banc) (plurality opinion of Bazelon, C.J.) (quoting Nuesse and urging courts to focus less on the “interest” requirement than on “the criteria of practical harm to the applicant and the adequacy of representation by others”); see also Tobias, supranote 10, at 435 (“Insofar as the courts [that take a broad view of Rule 24(a)] rely on any definition of interest, they subscribe to Judge Harold Leventhal’s 1967 enunciation . . . .”).Show More

Part II canvasses the history of Rule 24 and concludes that this broad reading is wrong. To be sure, the 1966 amendment that produced the current version of Rule 24(a) was designed to authorize intervention of right by some outsiders who previously would have qualified only for permissive intervention, and who would have been relegated to separate litigation if their requests for permissive intervention were denied. But the 1966 amendment was not intended to authorize intervention of right by people who previously would not have been proper parties at all (such as the intervenors in the cases described in Part I).

Part III links the technical debate over intervention to fundamental questions about the goals of litigation and the proper role of the courts. In 1976, based partly on then-recent developments in intervention doctrine, Professor Abram Chayes speculated that “[w]e are witnessing the emergence of a new model of civil litigation”—one in which courts decide questions about “the operation of public policy” and “anyone whose interests may be significantly affected by the litigation . . . [is] presumptively entitled to participate in the suit on demand.”16 16.Abram Chayes, The Role of the Judge in Public Law Litigation, 89 Harv. L. Rev. 1281, 1282, 1290, 1302, 1310 (1976).Show More Professor Chayes himself hailed the capacity of courts to hear from “the range of interests that will be affected” and to devise better solutions to policy problems than the “bureaucracies” in other parts of the government.17 17.Id. at 1308–10.Show More But the current Supreme Court may well be less sanguine about that prospect, and less willing to cast each federal district judge in the role of “policy planner and manager.”18 18.Id. at 1302.Show More

Unless one is affirmatively trying to facilitate that role, much modern doctrine about intervention seems mistaken. When given its most natural reading, Rule 24 does not depart from traditional party structures nearly as much as current practice assumes.

  1. * Emerson G. Spies Distinguished Professor of Law & Caddell and Chapman Professor of Law, University of Virginia. Thanks to Michael Collins, Scott Glass, John Harrison, and Ann Woolhandler for helpful comments.

  2. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(a) (authorizing “[a] party” to take depositions); Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a) (authorizing “a party” to propound interrogatories to any other party); Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(a) (authorizing “[a] party” to demand documents and electronically stored information from any other party); Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(a)(3) (enabling “a party” to use subpoenas duces tecum to obtain documents and electronically stored information from nonparties).
  3. See, e.g., Marino v. Ortiz, 484 U.S. 301, 304 (1988) (per curiam); cf. Sky Cable, LLC v. DIRECTV, Inc., 886 F.3d 375, 384 (4th Cir. 2018) (discussing a “limited exception” to this general rule).
  4. See Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 893–95 (2008) (identifying some categories of nonparty preclusion, but casting them as exceptions to the general rule).
  5. Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) (emphasis added).
  6. Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b)(1) (emphasis added).
  7. See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (specifying what must appear in “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief,” and requiring “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a) (discussing joinder of claims); Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) (discussing judgment “[w]hen an action presents more than one claim for relief—whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim”); see also Simona Grossi, The Claim, 55 Hous. L. Rev. 1, 7 (2017) (referring to the claim as “the basic litigation unit” under the Rules).
  8. See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(1)(A) (“In responding to a pleading, a party must . . . state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it . . . .”).
  9. EEOC v. Nat’l Children’s Ctr., 146 F.3d 1042, 1046 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (quoting Nuesse v. Camp, 385 F.2d 694, 704 (D.C. Cir. 1967) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). But see City of Herriman v. Bell, 590 F.3d 1176, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010) (“[T]o intervene under Rule 24(b) the proposed intervenor must have a claim or defense that shares at least some aspect with a claim or defense presented in the main action. Here, . . . Herriman City has no claim and thus cannot satisfy Rule 24(b)’s requirements.”).
  10. 7C Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1908.1, at 300 (3d ed. 2007).
  11. See Susan Bandes, The Idea of a Case, 42 Stan. L. Rev. 227, 250–51, 254 (1990) (noting “the lack of consensus about the type of interest needed for intervention” and citing many different formulations); Carl Tobias, Standing to Intervene, 1991 Wis. L. Rev. 415, 434 n.132 (concluding that, if anything, “Professor Bandes may have underestimated the number of formulations and the degree of inconsistency”); Eunice A. Eichelberger, Annotation, What Is “Interest” Relating to Property or Transaction Which Is Subject of Action Sufficient to Satisfy That Requirement for Intervention as Matter of Right Under Rule 24(a)(2) of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 73 A.L.R. Fed. 448, 458 (1985) (“The courts have developed no discernible standards or criteria, other than [a few] general guidelines . . . , which would explain their divergent rulings in cases involving similar types of litigation and proposed intervenors.”).
  12. See Restatement of Prop. § 5, Note on the Use of the Word Interest in the Restatement (Am. Law Inst. 1936) (indicating that with the exception of the Restatement of Torts, all the Restatements published by the American Law Institute use “interest” as “a word denoting a legal relation or relations”); see also id. § 5 (“The word ‘interest’ is used in this Restatement both generically to include varying aggregates of rights, privileges, powers and immunities and distributively to mean any one of them.”); Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, Some Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning, 23 Yale L.J. 16, 30 (1913) (laying out the taxonomy of legal relations to which this passage refers); cf. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 1 cmt. f (Am. Law Inst. 1965) (confirming that most of the Restatements use the word “interest” to “denot[e] the beneficial side of legal relations”).
  13. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 1 (Am. Law Inst. 1965) (“The word ‘interest’ is used throughout the Restatement of this Subject to denote the object of any human desire.”); id. cmt. a (specifying that the word “carries no implication that the interest is or is not given legal protection”).
  14. Compare United States v. Perry Cty. Bd. of Educ., 567 F.2d 277, 279 (5th Cir. 1978) (“[W]e have adopted a somewhat narrow reading of the term ‘interest’ . . . .”), with Mich. State AFL-CIO v. Miller, 103 F.3d 1240, 1245 (6th Cir. 1997) (“This circuit has opted for a rather expansive notion of the interest sufficient to invoke intervention of right.”). See also Conservation Law Found. of New England v. Mosbacher, 966 F.2d 39, 41–42 (1st Cir. 1992) (contrasting the “liberal approach” of the Second, Sixth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits with the “more restrictive criteria” applied in the Fifth, Seventh, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits).
  15. See Tobias, supra note 10, at 434 (noting the “relative dearth of Supreme Court precedent”).
  16. Nuesse v. Camp, 385 F.2d 694, 700 (D.C. Cir. 1967); accord Smuck v. Hobson, 408 F.2d 175, 179–80 (D.C. Cir. 1969) (en banc) (plurality opinion of Bazelon, C.J.) (quoting Nuesse and urging courts to focus less on the “interest” requirement than on “the criteria of practical harm to the applicant and the adequacy of representation by others”); see also Tobias, supra note 10, at 435 (“Insofar as the courts [that take a broad view of Rule 24(a)] rely on any definition of interest, they subscribe to Judge Harold Leventhal’s 1967 enunciation . . . .”).
  17. Abram Chayes, The Role of the Judge in Public Law Litigation, 89 Harv. L. Rev. 1281, 1282, 1290, 1302, 1310 (1976).
  18. Id. at 1308–10.
  19. Id. at 1302.

White Privilege and White Disadvantage

We hear the term “poor people and people of color” regularly. For example, the term frequently pops up in discussions of the criminal justice system. As a case in point, a recent report by The Sentencing Project describes racial disparities in sentencing and criticizes the United States for effectively operating “two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and people of color.” The term also appears in analyses of the ubiquitous presence that the state has in the lives of disempowered populations. In a report published by The Century Foundation, the authors assert that “[w]e do not need a unified theory of privacy to show that . . . marginal communities enjoy far less of it in practice. In some contexts, poor people and people of color have legal rights to privacy, but no means to exercise them.” Variations of the term are also common. For example, a Center for American Progress article, which condemns the Hyde Amendment for making abortion inaccessible to women who cannot afford to pay for the procedure, is titled “How the Hyde Amendment Discriminates Against Poor Women and Women of Color.”

However, the phrase “poor people and people of color,” as well as its variants, should give us pause. These phrases appear to suggest that, in the contexts in which the term is being used, all poor people—including poor white people—are similarly situated to all people of color. They imply that poor white people are as vulnerable to the criminal justice system as are all people of color, that the state surveils and regulates poor white people as vigorously as it surveils and regulates all people of color, and that the Hyde Amendment puts abortion as far out of the reach of poor white women as all women of color.

Simply stated, “poor people and people of color,” as well as its variants, imply that being poor is like being non-white. Now, if being poor is, in fact, like being non-white, then poor white people are like people of color. Significantly, if poor white people are like people of color, then the concept of white privilege becomes a bit misleading, if not altogether inaccurate. As Part II explains, white privilege refers to advantages that white people are supposed to receive by virtue of the fact that they are white. The concept presupposes that all white people—even the poor ones—have privileges on account of their race. However, if being poor is like being non-white, and if poor white people are like people of color, then it may not make sense to conceptualize poor white people as being privileged relative to people of color. If poor white people’s class disadvantage puts them in a social position that is similar to that occupied by people of color, then white privilege may not be something that they enjoy. Further, if white privilege is not enjoyed by poor white people, then it may make little sense to call it white privilege—inasmuch as white privilege implies that the privilege flows from being a member of the white race. It may make more sense to admit the error involved in the concept of white privilege and come up with a different concept altogether—something like affluent white people’s privilege or white class privilege.

For those who believe that white privilege remains a useful concept, it may be important for them to identify the benefits that even the most disenfranchised, disempowered white people possess on account of their race. The task of defending and rehabilitating the concept of white privilege by identifying poor white people’s race-based advantages is the goal of this paper. Carrie Buck—the plaintiff at the center of the Supreme Court’s 1927 decision Buck v. Bell—provides the foundation for the inquiry. Part I gives a history of the litigation that culminated in Bell, paying particular attention to the marginalization and disempowerment that Carrie Buck experienced throughout the course of her life. Part II describes various formulations of white privilege, identifying weaknesses with the most influential iterations of the concept. Part III analyzes the eugenics movement’s relationship to whiteness, describing its overarching interest in purifying and improving the white race. Part IV engages in the task of identifying the content of Carrie Buck’s white privilege, arguing that her racial privilege actually made her vulnerable to the state-sanctioned violence that she experienced. The Article concludes with some reflections on white privilege and outlines the work that those who are interested in racial justice must do in light of the complexity of the concept.