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The Unelected: How an Unaccountable Elite is Governing America

- 304 Pages
Published: 01/10/2020

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America is highly polarized around elections, but unelected actors make many of the decisions that affect our lives. In this lucid history, James R. Copland explains how unaccountable agents have taken over much of the U.S. government apparatus.

Congress has largely abdicated its authority. Independent administrative agencies churn out thousands of new regulations every year. Courts have enabled these rulemakers to expand their powers beyond those authorized by law-and have constrained executive efforts to rein in the bureaucratic behemoth.

No ordinary citizen can know what is legal and what is not. There are some 300,000 federal crimes, 98 percent of which were created by administrative action. The proliferation of rules gives enormous discretion to unelected enforcers, and the severity of sanctions can be ruinous to citizens who unwittingly violate a regulation.

Outside the bureaucracy, private attorneys regulate our conduct through lawsuits. Most of the legal theories underlying these suits were never voted upon by our elected representatives. A combination of historical accident, decisions by judges and law professors, and self-interested advocacy by litigators has built an onerous and expensive legal regime.

Finally, state and local officials may be accountable to their own voters, but some reach further afield, pursuing agendas to dictate the terms of national commerce. These new antifederalists are subjecting the citizens of Wyoming and Mississippi to the whims of the electorates of New York and San Francisco-contrary to the constitutional design.

In these ways, the unelected have assumed substantial control of the American republic, upended the rule of law, given the United States the world's costliest legal system, and inverted the Constitution's federalism. Copland caps off his account with ideas for charting a corrective course back to democratic accountability.