The LA Times reports that some liberal activists are concerned about President Obama's decision to nominate Harvard law professor (and one-time VC guest blogger) Cass Sunstein to be the administration's "regulatory czar" as head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget. While Sunstein is quite liberal on some issues, and inflamed some on the right with his attacks on "extreme right-wing" judges, his work on administrative law and regulatory issues is more moderate and quite well-respected. From the LA Times:
Though he is generally described as left of center, Sunstein's academic interests in regulation have led him to raise questions about the constitutionality of liberal favorites such as workplace safety laws and the Clean Air Act. He has embraced a controversial "senior death discount" that calculates the lives of younger people as having a greater value than those of the elderly.The Center for Progressive Reform, a non-profit institute "working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary," was among the first to express concerns about the Sunstein nomination, and today they released a report critical of his approach to regulatory policy. CPR President Rena Steinzor says the group won't support or oppose confirmation as "because we're not in that business," but they will likely be a source of ammunition for any who do decide to oppose Sunstein's confirmation, and several CPR member-scholars opposed the confirmation of Bush OIRA nominee John Graham.
Until recently such debates have taken place largely in the world of legal scholarship. But now that Obama has named Sunstein to serve as his regulatory czar, environmentalists and labor activists are digging into his voluminous body of work -- and wondering what policies might emanate from a man so dedicated to calculating the dollar value of every regulation. . . .
"If a Republican nominee had these views, the environmental community would be screaming for his scalp," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Instead, the response has been muted, as environmental and labor groups question the wisdom of criticizing the nominee of a popular president who has promised to support their agenda.
My own view is that pro-regulatory groups have little to fear from Sunstein's confirmation. Whatever questions Sunstein may have raised about the desirability (or even constitutionality) of various regulatory programs, I cannot think of anything he has written that challenges the idea of an aggressive regulatory state. Sunstein's administrative law expertise and analytical rigor is likely to translate into greater regulatory authority for this administration, particularly insofar as he is able to goad federal agencies to strengthen the analytical and legal justifications for their proposed regulatory initiatives. In this respect, Sunstein could make the Obama Administration's regulatory initiatives more formidable and less vulnerable to judicial review, and that is an outcome I would think environmental activists and their allies would cheer.