Agency delay has become a chronic issue in administrative law. As Congress increasingly relies on reducing appropriations to implement its agenda, agencies have shouldered the conflicting burdens of meeting preexisting statutory deadlines for agency action, while also adhering to their newly reduced budgets. The result has been delayed agency action across a broad range of policy areas, such as environmental protection, health care, and economic policy.
These delays have spurred suits seeking issuance of the writ of mandamus to enforce statutory deadlines. In adjudicating these suits, courts must navigate the tensions between the clear text of the statute, the recognition that agency resources are necessary to fulfill statutory obligations, and the presumption of judicial deference to agency decisionmaking about how to use those resources. But courts have often issued mandamus to enforce these deadlines, notwithstanding the inability of agencies to meet them. Such enforcement potentially undercuts agency prioritization and expertise, and typically is ineffective at speeding agency action.
This Note argues that early to mid-twentieth-century mandamus doctrine, codified by the Administrative Procedure Act and based in principles of equity, could resolve these tensions. Courts applying the mandamus doctrine during this period considered the goals of effective governance and public administration when determining whether to issue the extraordinary writ of mandamus. Incorporating these considerations into contemporary mandamus doctrine has its challenges. But the historical perspective may encourage greater judicial restraint when issuing mandamus would have harmful public effects.
The full text of this Note can be found by clicking the PDF link to the left.