Heinzerling Becomes William J. Brennan, Jr. Professor of Law

February 21, 2014 —

In recent months, President Barack Obama has indicated that with a pen and a phone, he can sign executive orders and make things happen in administrative agencies even without congressional action. Yet according to Georgetown Law Professor Lisa Heinzerling, the president and his aides should put down the pens and phones and let the agencies do their jobs.  

“The administration could get a whole lot done, not by bypassing Congress, but by following instructions laid down in statutes that Congress has already passed,” she said. “From this perspective, the president and his aides have much more than a pen and a phone to work with. They have just about the entire United States Code.”

Heinzerling was installed February 19 as Georgetown Law’s Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Professor of Law. The professorship, made possible through a gift from the late John McInespie (L’93), was an especially fitting honor for Heinzerling, who once clerked for the late justice.

“Like Justice Brennan, Lisa is kind, smart, hard working, is deeply committed to a set of beliefs and has made her life’s work their realization,” said Professor Naomi Mezey, who introduced Heinzerling along with Dean William M. Treanor. “For Lisa, those [beliefs include] the importance of clean air and water, of pristine wilderness, of safe food … and of the small issue of planetary survival.”

In her investiture speech Heinzerling discussed, among other things, how the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ review process can delay rules “that go to the White House all dressed up and ready to go.” Some rules are delayed so long that they are effectively killed, and rules that survive can be changed beyond recognition. How does the U.S. Code fit in? 

“If a statute says that the Environmental Protection Agency will set air quality standards for the nation … that means the Environmental Protection Agency,” Heinzerling said. To suggest that the executive gets to make the call not only sidesteps constitutional arguments, she noted, it means that we don’t even have to read the statute. “I think we should try to turn this ship around.”

A webcast may be viewed here.