Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



When legal language and the effects of public intervention are indeterminate, generalist law-makers (legislatures, courts, top-level administrators) often rely on the normative output of contextualizing regimes – institutions that structure deliberative engagement by stakeholders and articulate the resulting understanding. Examples include the familiar practices of delegation and deference to administrative agencies in public law and to trade associations in private law. We argue that resort to contextualizing regimes is becoming increasingly common across a broad range of issues and that the structure of emerging regimes is evolving away from the well-studied agency and trade association examples. The newer regimes mix public and private participation in novel ways. Their structures are less hierarchical than those of traditional administrative agencies and less clearly bounded than those of traditional trade associations. While the traditional regimes function to make solutions developed in more specialized realms available to generalist law-makers, the newer ones function to organize collaborative inquiry where neither specialists nor generalists have well-developed understandings of problems or solutions. We explore the structure of such regimes and their relation to generalist law-makers through three examples – a health and safety regime that straddles private and public law (the California Leafy Greens Products Handler Marketing Agreement), a civil rights regime (the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative), and an international environmental regime (the Dolphin Conservation Program of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission).

Date of Authorship for this Version

Winter 3-4-2011