Courts have cited the Administrative Procedure Act, Pub. L. 79–404 enacted on June 11, 1946, in blocking the Trump administration’s attempts to end policies from the Obama era. These include actions to undermine the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (New York v. Trump), a delay in a regulation requiring oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks (Sierra Club v. Zinke), and postponement of a rule that would give low-income families more access to housing in wealthier neighborhoods (Open Communities Alliance v. Carson). In each instance, Trump policy changes have hit the same stumbling block: Courts say the administration has not followed the proper steps in enacting them, citing a 1940s-era law that’s become a key weapon in the legal battle over the president’s agenda. Under that law, the Administrative Procedure Act, federal agencies are required to provide a reasoned justification for their policy decisions and offer the public an opportunity to weigh in when they are creating new regulations, making notable changes to existing rules, or scrapping them altogether. In other words, rescission of the former policies require that the government provide notice and comment, otherwise there would be a violation of Section 553 of the APA.
Congress passed the Administrative Procedure Act in 1946 amid the rise of communism and fascism in Europe, hoping to place checks on the vast bureaucracy created by the New Deal and “avoid dictatorship and central planning,” as one legal expert explained. Under the law, federal agencies must provide a reasoned analysis for making policy changes to avoid “arbitrary and capricious” rule-making. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies go through a process known as “notice and comment” before issuing, amending or repealing “substantive rules.” As part of that process, the agency must publish proposed actions in the Federal Register and then give the public at least 30 days to submit feedback. When it finalizes its proposal, the agency must respond to issues raised by the public comments and must explain why it settled upon the course of action that it chose. The explanation must show why the agency’s action is reasonable and not “arbitrary” or “capricious.”
Brooklyn Law School students may want to review Informal Rulemaking, a CALI lesson (password required), which examines the procedural steps that an administrative agency must follow in order to create a valid “informal” rule. This lesson is intended for students who have studied these issues in class and wish to further refine their knowledge.