Daniel R. Ernst, LAPA Fellow; Georgetown University Law Center

We Cannot Live Our Dreams: Lawyers and Professional Authority in the National Recovery Administration

Mon, 02/08/2016
301 Marx Hall
Event Category: 

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Daniel R. Ernst, Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, who will present, "We Cannot Live Our Dreams: Lawyers and Professional Authority."  The commentator is Meg Jacobs, Research Scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School.

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

From Professor Ernst:  "The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law on June 16, 1933, vested astonishing power in the President of the United States.  “Nothing like this comprehensive restructuring of market capitalism by a nation state ever had been tried before in a constitutional democracy,” writes Ira Katznelson.  Contemporaries agreed.  “Mussolini’s march on Rome, Lenin’s seizure of power are no more epoch-making than Roosevelt’s program,” declared the new solicitor of the labor.  But what started as drama ended as farce.  After the Supreme Court ruled the statute unconstitutional in May 1935, one observer called the National Recovery Administration (NRA), the principal agency charged with enforcing NIRA,  “a scene of unprecedented confusion, uncertainty, frustration, intrigue, and abject failure.”  Another pronounced it “a joke, a tragedy, an abortion, and a fraud.”  In the midst of the debacle were the NRA’s lawyers, who insisted that administrators keep within bounds set by Congress and the Constitution.  During NRA’s first six months, however, they did not prevent the adoption of “Codes of Fair Competition” of doubtful legality, acquiescing on the dubious ground that the facts might prove them wrong.  The member of the Legal Division who precipitated the decisive conflict between administrators and lawyers was not, like many “New Deal lawyers,”  a son of the tenements, but a brilliant young woman from Wisconsin with her own reasons for insisting on the authority of lawyers within public bureaucracies."

Daniel R. Ernst *89 is a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he has taught since 1988. Ernst teaches courses at Georgetown in American legal history and property.  He is the author of Lawyers Against Labor (1995), for which he received the Littleton Griswold Award of the American Historical Association, andTocqueville’s Nightmare (2014).  He is also the co-editor of Total War and the Law(2003).  Ernst was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the National Library of New Zealand in 1996 and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in 2003-04. From 2006 to 2010, he was co-editor of "Studies in Legal History," a book series sponsored by the American Society for Legal History and the University of North Carolina Press, and he is the principal contributor to Legal History Blog. Ernst earned his law degree at the University of Chicago.  He received an LL.M. from the University of Wisconsin, and his Ph.D. in history from Princeton University.  During his year at LAPA he will be working on a book examining the history of New Deal lawyers.

Meg Jacobs is a Research Scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School teaching courses in public policy and history. She received her Ph.D. in 1998 from the University of Virginia and was an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been a fellow at the Harvard Business School, the Charles Warren Center, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. She is currently working on a book on the energy crisis of the 1970s, which looks at why American politicians failed to devise a long-term energy policy. She is the author of  Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America,which was published with Princeton University Press and won the Organization of American Historians' 2006 prize for the best book on modern politics.  She has recently published Conservatives in Power: The Reagan Years, 1981-1989, Bedford/St.Martin's (2010).  Recent publications include "Wreaking Havoc from Within: George W. Bush's Energy Policy in Historical Perspective" in The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment, edited by Julian E. Zelizer (Princeton University Press, 2010); "The Uncertain Future of American Politics, 1940 to 1973" in American History Now, edited by Eric Foner and Lisa McGirr (Temple University Press, 2011); "The Politics of Environmental Regulation: Business-Government Relations in the 1970s and Beyond" in What's Good for Business: Business and American Politics since World War II, edited by Kim Phillips-Fein and Julian E. Zelizer (Oxford University Press, 2012).