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Transformative Bureaucracy: Reagan's Lawyers and the Dynamics of Political Investment

  • Steven M. Teles (a1)

Previous work in law and political development has emphasized the role that a “support structure” in civil society plays in translating electoral success into legal outcomes. In this paper, I claim that legal change can also work in the other direction—political appointees in government can use their power to assist their allies in civil society. Drawing on in-depth interviews and archival materials, I show how—especially under Attorney General Meese—the Reagan Department of Justice invested in the ideas (through its support of originalism), organizations (especially the Federalist Society), and personnel of the conservative legal movement and reorganized itself to give these longer-term objectives more importance in the department. These investments add up to a case of “transformative bureaucracy”: the use of bureaucratic power to transform the conditions of future political conflict.

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Stephen Skowronek , Building a New American State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)

David Plotke , Building a Democratic Political Order: Reshaping American Liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Steven Teles , “Conservative Mobilization Against Entrenched Liberalism,” in Transformations of American Politics, ed. Paul Pierson and Theda Skocpol (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007)

Richard Schmalensee , “Bill Baxter in the Antitrust Arena: An Economist's Appreciation,” Stanford Law Review 51 (May 1999): 1317–32

Hugh Davis Graham , “The Storm Over Grove City College: Civil Rights Regulation, Higher Education, and The Reagan Administration,” History of Education Quarterly (winter, 1998): 407–29

Jack M. Balkin , “Bush v. Gore and the Boundary Between Law and Politics,” Yale Law Journal 110, no. 8 (June 2001): 1444–45

Francesa Polletta and James Jasper , “Collective Identity and Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology (2001): 283305

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Studies in American Political Development
  • ISSN: 0898-588X
  • EISSN: 1469-8692
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-american-political-development
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