Thursday, July 16, 2009

Putting a Hold on Compassion

The confirmation process for federal appointments can be a long row to hoe, as we are now seeing with the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. But the agriculture metaphor is even more relevant for Cass Sunstein, the Harvard Law School professor and constitutional scholar who is President Obama’s pick to be regulatory czar, or more technically the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) put a hold on Sunstein’s confirmation—apparently at the urging of some agribusiness groups—because Sunstein’s long and distinguished legal career has included some writings about animal protection issues. He is the co-editor, for example, of Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, which examines the emerging field of animal law through a variety of perspectives (including articles from authors who argue vehemently both for and against animal protection reforms).

It’s an odd reason to hold up an important agency appointment, particularly because OIRA is not charged with developing regulations itself and it’s not the views of the OIRA Administrator that will drive public policy. OIRA doesn’t determine if regulations will be harsh or lenient, and it is not designed to perform a major ideological function, though of course there are political considerations that do come into play. Its job is to review what other agencies do—essentially, to perform a quality control function—making sure proper regulatory procedures are followed, cost-benefit analysis is done, and other steps are taken..." More