The crackdown is the executive decision to intensify the severity of enforcement of existing laws or regulations as to a selected class of offenders or offenses. Each year, federal, state, and local prosecutors and agencies carry out thousands of crackdowns on everything from trespassing to insider trading to minimum-wage violations at nail salons. Despite crackdowns’ ubiquity, legal scholarship has devoted little attention to the crackdown and to the distinctive legal and policy challenges that crackdowns can pose.
This Article offers an examination and a critique of the crackdown as a tool of public law. The crackdown can be a benign and valuable law enforcement technique. But crackdowns can also stretch statutory authority to the breaking point, threaten to infringe on constitutional values, generate unjust or absurd results, and serve the venal interests of the law enforcer at the expense of the interests of the public. Surveying a spectrum of crackdowns from the criminal and administrative contexts, and from local, state, and federal law, this Article explores the many ways that crackdowns may quietly subvert democratic values.
The obvious challenge, then, is to discourage the implementation of pathological crackdowns, while also preserving the needed flexibility to enforce the law, within the context of a legal and political system that imposes sparse restraints on the crackdown choice. This Article locates a foundation for tackling this challenge in the requirement of “faithful” execution in Article II’s Take Care Clause and its cognate clauses in the state constitutions. The crackdown decision should be faithful—to statutory text and context, to the interests of the public, and to constitutional and rule-of-law values. By elaborating the content of this obligation, this Article supplies a novel normative framework for evaluating the crackdown—and a much-needed legal platform for governing it. Cutting sharply against the grain of modern law, this Article calls for a broad rethinking of the principles and constraints that should frame the executive’s power to selectively and programmatically augment enforcement.
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