Dictation and Delegation in Securities Regulation
When Congress undertakes major financial reform, either it dictates the precise contours of the law itself or it delegates the bulk of the rulemaking to an administrative agency. This choice has critical consequences. Making the law self-executing in federal legislation is swift, not subject to administrative tinkering, and less vulnerable than rulemaking to judicial second-guessing. Agency action is, in contrast, deliberate, subject to ongoing bureaucratic fiddling and more vulnerable than statutes to judicial challenge.
This Article offers the first empirical analysis of the extent of congressional delegation in securities law from 1970 to the present day, examining nine pieces of congressional legislation. The data support what I call the dictation/delegation thesis. According to this thesis, even controlling for shifts in political-party dominance, Congress is more likely to delegate to an agency in the wake of a salient securities crisis than in a period of economic calm. In times of prosperity, when cohesive interest groups with unitary preferences can summon enough political will to pass deregulatory legislation on their behalf, the result will be laws that cabin agency discretion. In other words, when industry can play offense, Congress itself engages in the making of governing rules and does not punt to an agency—even on issues that would seem the logical province of administrative technocrats. In contrast, following a crisis, industry is forced to play defense rather than offense. Its goal is to minimize the deleterious impact of inevitable legislation by shifting regulation as much as possible to the agency level, where it has time to regroup and often delay regulation until the political pressure for reform abates.