The Constitutional Duty to Supervise
The IRS targets Tea Party organizations’ applications for nonprofit tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Newly opened online federal health exchanges fail to function. Officials at some Veterans Administration hospitals engage in widespread falsification of wait times. A key theme linking these examples is that they all involve managerial and supervisory failure. This should come as no surprise. Supervision and other systemic features of government administration have long been fundamental in shaping how an agency operates, and their importance is only more acute today. New approaches to program implementation and regulation mean that a broader array of actors is wielding broader discretionary governmental authority. The centrality of systemic administration in practice contrasts starkly with its virtual exclusion from contemporary U.S. constitutional law. This exclusion of administration takes a variety of doctrinal guises, but it surfaces repeatedly in both structural and individual rights contexts.
This Article argues that the exclusion of systemic administration from constitutional law is a mistake. This exclusion creates a deeply troubling disconnect between the realities of government and the constitutional requirements imposed on exercises of governmental power. Just as importantly, the current doctrinal exclusion of administration stands at odds with the Constitution’s text and structure, which repeatedly emphasize one particular systemic administrative feature: supervision. This emphasis on supervision is most prominently manifest in Article II’s Take Care Clause, but it also surfaces more broadly as a constitutional prerequisite of delegation of governmental power. Whether it is rooted in Article II, general separation of powers principles, or due process, a duty to supervise represents a basic precept of our federal constitutional structure.
Moreover, concerns about judicial role do not justify the Court’s refusal to engage with systemic administration, and judicial recognition of a constitutional duty to supervise is critical even if the duty is entirely politically enforced. Indeed, recognizing a constitutional duty to supervise is as central to the overall project of constitutional interpretation as it is to the aim of better keying constitutional law to the realities of contemporary governance. Recognizing this duty underscores the need for greater attention to how courts can support constitutional enforcement by the other branches and highlights the porous and critical relationship between constitutional and subconstitutional law.