Sunstein appointment draws left wing ire

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Cass Sunstein

Opposition has arisen to President Barack Obama ’91’s appointment of Professor Cass Sunstein ’78 as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, according to the Los Angeles Times. A coalition of left-wing interests, including labor officials, environmentalists, and progressive lawyers, has labeled the professor an inappropriate choice for the post, based on a number of positions the longtime academic has taken in his scholarship. Some have gone so far as to call for Democratic senators to give him a rough grilling during his confirmation hearings. Sunstein, a longtime friend of the President who is generally considered to have left-of-center political beliefs, reiterated that he believes in a “strong regulatory state”.

Among other things, the group cited Sunstein’s questioning of the constitutionality of workplace safety laws and the Clean Air Act as causes for concern, as well as his embrace of a “senior death discount” that views the lives of the young as inherently more worthy than those of the old. This last and other proposals have been cited as examples of Sunstein’s overuse of cost-benefit analysis as a tool to determine worthwhile regulatory interventions. “Until recently such debates have taken place largely in the world of legal scholarship,” the L.A. Times reported, “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.”

One of Sunstein’s recent interventions in politics has also not gone unnoticed. In 2001, Sunstein backed the Bush administration’s choice for the regulatory czar post, John Graham, in the face of serious opposition from prominent Democrats.

And on January 26, one of the groups concerned about (but not formally opposed to) Sunstein’s appointment – a left-wing lawyers’ organization called the Center for Progressive Reform – released to the Record an 18 page report on the professor’s alleged political allegiances. It included the accusation that Sunstein’s age-based cost benefit approach was considered in the course of determining Bush administration EPA regulations in 2003. The methodology proved controversial enough that Democratic Illinois Senator Richard Durbin proposed it be banned. The CPR was also concerned about Sunstein’s rejection of the “precautionary principle” of regulation, saying that he would give “benefit of the doubt” to polluters rather than concerns about product safety, and about his very questioning of the notion that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration might be unconstitutional.

The authors of the report, who describe themselves as “longtime colleagues of Professor Sunstein,” concluded that his “track record on regulatory issues is decidedly conservative”. The President of the CPR, which is also concerned about Sunstein’s support for the centralization of decision-making over regulatory power in the OIRA, also wrote that “Sunstein’s reliance on cost-benefit analysis will create a regulatory fiefdom in the White House that will deal with needed regulations in much the same way that the Bush administration did”. She went on to express hope that, if Sunstein is confirmed, he “moderates his past-stated views on these issues”.Recent faculty addition Cass Sunstein ’78 will also be heading to Washington to assist the incoming administration. Sunstein will serve as President Obama’s regulation czar. The prolific scholar was also named the world’s third most influential public intellectual.

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