In the years since the New Deal and the Great Society, a huge number of federal statutes have been enacted into law and have become permanent fixtures of American life. Repealing these statutes is politically impossible because one needs a majority of the House of Representatives, sixty votes in the Senate, and the President’s signature to repeal a law. The cumbersome mechanisms of bicameralism, the Senate filibuster, and the President’s veto, which were meant to ensure limited government, now serve the wholly different purpose of entrenching big government by making federal laws immortal. This panel will consider whether Congress should pass a general federal sunset law that would require that most federal statutes sunset after ten or twenty years unless they are re-enacted by the two Houses of Congress together with the President. Arguably, such a law would return us to the Framers’ vision where small government was entrenched instead of big government being entrenched. Many states have adopted sunset laws, and maybe now it is time for the federal government to follow their good example. Thomas Jefferson once proposed that even the Constitution itself should sunset every 20 years – an idea that James Madison wisely rejected. But even if the Constitution ought not to sunset and even if a few landmark laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ought not to sunset, surely most federal laws ought to be periodically in need of being reenacted. This panel will examine that question.This panel was featured as Showcase Panel IV at the 2011 National Lawyers Convention on November 12, 2011.
Showcase Panel IV: A Federal Sunset Law
2:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
State Room - Overflow: Chinese Room
- Hon. Frank H. Easterbrook, U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
- Prof. William N. Eskridge Jr., John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence, Yale Law School
- Mr. Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chairman, Common Good Coalition
- Prof. Thomas W. Merrill, Charles Evans Hughes Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
- Moderator: Hon. Jeffrey S. Sutton, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit