Faculty Scholarship Digest

Christopher J. Walker



Christopher J. Walker (w/ Aaron L. Nielson), The New Qualified Immunity, 89 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1 (2016).

With funding from Moritz’s Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies, Chris and a coauthor (Professor Aaron Nielson of Brigham Young University Law School) compiled a database of more than 800 appellate decisions addressing qualified immunity. In this article, the two use their exhaustive database to examine the impact of a seminal Supreme Court decision, Pearson v. CallahanPearson established a rule that allows courts to avoid constitutional issues when adjudicating a claim of qualified immunity: If the asserted right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation, then the court need not decide whether the right actually exists. Through their careful empirical analysis, Chris and his coauthor conclude that this rule impairs the development of constitutional law in several ways. To remedy the defects, they urge the Supreme Court to require lower courts to articulate more fully the reasons they find that a right was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. This requirement would resemble—but not fully duplicate—the “reason-giving requirements” of administrative law.

In a public review of Chris and Aaron’s work, Professor Nancy Leong concluded that this article “is a gift, beautifully packaged, for those of us who write about constitutional litigation.” As Leong notes, the article also “provides a great example of how legal scholarship simultaneously may be of great use to legal scholars, judges, and practitioners—there is no conflict among the various audiences for such a piece.” Chris and his coauthor deftly combine theory, empirical analysis and a thoughtful remedy in a way that will inform all audiences. And luckily for all of us, the gifts will keep coming: Chris and his coauthor are already finalizing a second paper based on their database. The new work will examine the influence of appellate panel composition and publication decisions in qualified immunity cases—both questions that have long intrigued scholars and practitioners.

Christopher J. Walker, How to Win the Deference Lottery, 91 Tex. L. Rev. See Also 73 (2013), http://www.texaslrev.com/wp-content/uploads/Walker.pdf.

In this invited piece, Christopher Walker responds to Jud Mathews, Deference Lottery, 91 Tex. L. Rev. 1349 (2013). Mathews’s idea is that federal administrative agencies face a two-step lottery when advancing an interpretation of a statute because of uncertainty over which judicial review standard (Chevron or Skidmore) the court will apply in reviewing the agency interpretation. In his response, Walker accepts the lottery thesis, but suggests that agencies should think more strategically. He offers a playbook for agencies to win the deference lottery. Central to Walker’s view is that the lottery is not a win-or-go-home contest. Instead, it is a repeated game where courts and agencies engage in a dialogue with many opportunities to play again. Consequently, Walker thinks that tightening or loosening the lottery may not have as strong an effect on agency behavior as Mathews predicts.

Christopher J. Walker, Avoiding Normative Canons in Review of Administrative Interpretations of Law: A Brand X Doctrine of Constitutional Avoidance, 64 ADMIN. L. REV. 139 (2012).

This article considers the interaction of two important doctrines: the doctrine of constitutional avoidance (a canon of statutory construction that directs courts facing a statute with multiple reasonable interpretations “to avoid an interpretation that raises serious constitutional problems”) and the Chevron doctrine under which a court should defer to an agency’s construction of a statute it administers if the statute is ambiguous or silent and the agency’s reading is a “permissible construction.” These two directives can come into conflict with remarkable frequency. If a court faces a challenge to an administrative regulation that is a permissible construction under an ambiguous statute but that raises a serious constitutional question, what should a court do? Should it strike the regulation (ignoring Chevron deference) in order to avoid the constitutional question? Or should it apply Chevron and actually determine the constitutionality of the regulation (ignoring the constitutional avoidance doctrine)? As the article describes, the predominant answer among courts and academics has been that constitutional avoidance trumps. Chris argues that separation of powers concerns in fact mandate the opposite answer: Chevron should trump and constitutional avoidance should not apply.

The core of the separation-of-powers argument is that “Congress has delegated interpretive authority first and foremost to the agency,” an action, Chris argues, that cannot constitutionally be ignored merely for the prudential doctrine of constitutional avoidance. The article uses the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Brand X which bolstered Chevron by declaring a “presumption” that in an ambiguous statute “Congress ‘desired the agency (rather than the courts) to possess whatever degree of discretion the ambiguity allows.’” The article carefully canvasses the constitutional arguments, while also suggesting that Chris’ approach gives each entity the task for which it is best suited: “Whereas courts are well equipped to decide whether a construction is actually constitutional, agencies often are in a better position to fill the holes in ambiguous statutes they administer with procedural and substantive safeguards that eliminate constitutional concerns.” A final section of the article surveys the potential real-world impact of Chris’ approach in a number of fields, including environmental protection, labor relations, immigration law, and national security.

Christopher J. Walker, Inside Regulatory Interpretation: A Research Note, 114 Mich. L. Rev. First Impressions 61 (2015), http://michiganlawreview.org/inside-regulatory-interpretation/.

In May, the Stanford Law Review published Chris’s landmark study of federal agency rule drafting: Christopher J. Walker, Inside Agency Statutory Interpretation, 67 Stan. L. Rev. 999 (2015). In this piece, Chris draws upon those empirical results to evaluate Professor Kevin Stack’s “seminal” article on the theory of regulatory interpretation. As part of that theory, Stack urged courts to pay special attention to the mandatory “statement of basis and purpose” that accompanies every agency rule. Chris’s survey, in turn, asked rule drafters how they actually approach creation of these statements—and how they believe that courts treat their efforts. After examining responses, Chris concludes that the drafters’ views “provide compelling support for [Stack’s] approach to regulatory interpretation and should further encourage courts to move in that direction.” He also explains that Stack’s interpretive theory can accommodate both purposivists and textualists; a regulation’s statement of basis and purpose constitute part of the regulation’s “text.”

Chris’s research note, published in the Michigan Law Review’s online forum, solidifies his place at the forefront of scholarly attempts to understand regulatory interpretation. By ably combining empirical and theoretical perspectives, he informs the work of both scholars and practitioners in this field.

Book Chapters

Chris Walker (w/David C. Frederick et al.), The Insider’s Guide to the Supreme Court of the United States, in Dana Livingston & American Bar Assoc. eds., ABA-CAL APPELLATE PRACTICE COMPENDIUM (ABA Publishing 2012).

This is a chapter in an a two-volume pracitioner’s guide to federal appellate practice. There is a chapter providing an “insider’s guide” to appeals in each of the eleven numbered Circuit Courts of Appeal, the D.C. Circuit, and the Federal Circuit. The first chapter, however, which Chris co-authored, provides the “insider’s guide” to the Supreme Court. It provides guidance and “top tips for practioners” from the certiorari stage through the merits, succinctly addressing everything from CVSG’s and GVR’s, to amicus briefs and rules governing the joint appendix, as well as pointing to other online and print resources that can guide new Supreme Court practitioners. Some law school Supreme Court clinics have already begun to incorporate the chapter into their curricula.


CHRISTOPHER J. WALKER, ADMIN. CONF. OF THE U.S., FEDERAL AGENCIES IN THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS: TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE IN STATUTORY DRAFTING (2015), https://www.acus.gov/sites/default/files/documents/technical-assistance-final-report.pdf.

The Administrative Conference of the United States commissioned this report, which focuses on the role of federal agencies in providing technical assistance to Congress on legislative drafting. Chris’s final report offers a wealth of empirical detail drawn from in-person interviews with agency officials and anonymous responses to an online survey. In addition to summarizing these findings, Chris identifies the major challenges faced by the agencies and formulates a set of nine best practices for agencies to follow. Chris concludes by calling for “further empirical study and theoretical development about the role of federal agencies in the legislative process,” but his own report has already answered a significant part of that call. This scholarly, articulate report will inform agency officials, legislators, policy makers, lobbyists, and ordinary voters. All of us need a greater understanding of the role that administrative agencies play in drafting congressional statutes.