Recusal in Administrative Adjudication

The challenges facing agency adjudication are a microcosm of those facing modern American government. Limited resources, shifting priorities, and overt politicization all contribute to perhaps the gravest threat to the longevity of our public institutions—diminished confidence in the integrity of agency action.

Recusal—the removal of an adjudicator from a particular case—is a time-honored way of safeguarding the integrity of adjudicative proceedings, from traditional judicial proceedings to agency adjudications. Yet unlike judicial proceedings, there is no set standard for determining when an agency adjudicator must recuse. Agencies have been left to design their own recusal regimes for the dual purpose of promoting fairness to litigants and, just as importantly, public confidence in their proceedings. Until now, the nature and scope of agency recusal practices were largely a mystery. This Article, which is derived substantially from a recent report for the Administrative Conference of the United States, is the first to develop a comprehensive accounting and taxonomy of agency recusal standards. As such, it is also the first to offer a normative analysis of administrative recusal across all federal agencies. The result is a series of recommendations for how agencies can best develop their recusal practices to combat the ongoing cynicism and suspicion that threatens the efficacy of American government.