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Administrative Law Review


Congress, courts, judicial power, jurisdiction, agency review, administrative law


For more than one hundred years, Congress has experimented with review of agency action by single-judge district courts, multiple-judge district courts, and direct review by circuit courts. This tinkering has not given way to a stable design. Rather than settling on a uniform scheme—or at least a scheme with a discernible organizing principle— Congress has left litigants with a jurisdictional maze that varies unpredictably across and within statutes and agencies.

In this Article, we offer a fresh look at the theoretical and empirical factors that ought to inform the allocation of the judicial power between district and circuit courts in suits challenging agency action. We conclude that the current scheme is both incoherent and, to the extent it favors direct review by circuit courts, unjustified. We conclude that initial review by district courts is, in general, the better option, and a clear divide is preferable to the ad hoc approach that Congress has favored. Along the way, we offer a new analytical framework for deciding which court should review the Executive.