This case presents the question of the extent to which a decision of an administrative agency to exercise its "discretion" not to undertake certain enforcement actions is subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. S. C. § 501 et seq. (APA). Respondents are several prison inmates convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death by lethal injection of drugs. They petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), alleging that under the circumstances the use of these drugs for capital punishment violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 52 Stat. 1040, as amended, 21 U. S. C. § 301 et seq. (FDCA), and requesting that the FDA take various enforcement actions to prevent these violations. The FDA refused their request. We review here a decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which held the FDA's refusal to take enforcement actions both reviewable and an abuse of discretion, and remanded the case with directions that the agency be required "to fulfill its statutory function." 231 U. S. App. D. C. 136, 153, 718 F.2d 1174, 1191 (1983).
Respondents have been sentenced to death by lethal injection of drugs under the laws of the States of Oklahoma and Texas. Those States, and several others, have recently adopted this method for carrying out the capital sentence. Respondents first petitioned the FDA, claiming that the drugs used by the States for this purpose, although approved by the FDA for the medical purposes stated on their labels, were not approved for use in human executions. They alleged that the drugs had not been tested for the purpose for which they were to be used, and that, given that the drugs would likely be administered by untrained personnel, it was also likely that the drugs would not induce the quick and painless death intended. They urged that use of these drugs for human execution was the "unapproved use of an approved drug" and
The FDA Commissioner responded, refusing to take the requested actions. The Commissioner first detailed his disagreement with respondents' understanding of the scope of FDA jurisdiction over the unapproved use of approved drugs for human execution, concluding that FDA jurisdiction in the area was generally unclear but in any event should not be exercised to interfere with this particular aspect of state criminal justice systems. He went on to state:
Respondents then filed the instant suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming the same violations of the FDCA and asking that the FDA be required to take the same enforcement actions requested in the prior petition.
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. The majority began by discussing the FDA's jurisdiction over the unapproved use of approved drugs for human execution, and concluded that the FDA did have jurisdiction over such a use. The court then addressed the Government's assertion of unreviewable discretion
The court found "law to apply" in the form of a FDA policy statement which indicated that the agency was "obligated" to investigate the unapproved use of an approved drug when such use became "widespread" or "endanger[ed] the public health." Id., at 148, 718 F. 2d, at 1186 (citing 37 Fed. Reg. 16504 (1972)). The court held that this policy statement constituted a "rule" and was considered binding by the FDA. Given the policy statement indicating that the FDA should take enforcement action in this area, and the strong presumption that all agency action is subject to judicial review, the court concluded that review of the agency's refusal was not foreclosed. It then proceeded to assess whether the agency's decision not to act was "arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion." Citing evidence that the FDA assumed
The dissenting judge expressed the view that an agency's decision not to institute enforcement action generally is unreviewable, and that such exercises of "prosecutorial discretion" presumptively fall within the APA's exception for agency actions "committed to agency discretion by law." He noted that traditionally courts have been wary of second-guessing agency decisions not to enforce, given the agency's expertise and better understanding of its enforcement policies and available resources. He likewise concluded that nothing in the FDCA or FDA regulations would provide a basis for a court's review of this agency decision. A divided Court of Appeals denied the petition for rehearing. 233 U. S. App. D. C. 146, 724 F.2d 1030 (1984). We granted certiorari to review the implausible result that the FDA is required to exercise its enforcement power to ensure that States only use drugs that are "safe and effective" for human execution. 467 U.S. 1251 (1984). We reverse.
The Court of Appeals' decision addressed three questions: (1) Whether the FDA had jurisdiction to undertake the enforcement actions requested, (2) whether if it did have jurisdiction
The APA's comprehensive provisions for judicial review of "agency actions" are contained in 5 U. S. C. §§ 701-706. Any person "adversely affected or aggrieved" by agency action, see § 702, including a "failure to act," is entitled to "judicial review thereof," as long as the action is a "final agency action for which there is no other adequate remedy in a court," see § 704. The standards to be applied on review are governed by the provisions of § 706. But before any review at all may be had, a party must first clear the hurdle of § 701(a). That section provides that the chapter on judicial review "applies, according to the provisions thereof, except to the extent that — (1) statutes preclude judicial review; or (2) agency action is committed to agency discretion by law." Petitioner urges that the decision of the FDA to refuse enforcement is an action "committed to agency discretion by law" under § 701(a)(2).
This Court has not had occasion to interpret this second exception in § 701(a) in any great detail. On its face, the section does not obviously lend itself to any particular construction; indeed, one might wonder what difference exists between § (a)(1) and § (a)(2). The former section seems easy in application; it requires construction of the substantive statute involved to determine whether Congress intended to preclude judicial review of certain decisions. That is the approach taken with respect to § (a)(1) in cases such as Southern
This Court first discussed § (a)(2) in Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402 (1971). That case dealt with the Secretary of Transportation's approval of the building of an interstate highway through a park in Memphis, Tennessee. The relevant federal statute provided that the Secretary "shall not approve" any program or project using public parkland unless the Secretary first determined that no feasible alternatives were available. Id., at 411. Interested citizens challenged the Secretary's approval under the APA, arguing that he had not satisfied the substantive statute's requirements. This Court first addressed the "threshold question" of whether the agency's action was at all reviewable. After setting out the language of § 701(a), the Court stated:
The above quote answers several of the questions raised by the language of § 701(a), although it raises others. First, it clearly separates the exception provided by § (a)(1) from the § (a)(2) exception. The former applies when Congress has expressed an intent to preclude judicial review. The latter applies in different circumstances; even where Congress has not affirmatively precluded review, review is not to be had if the statute is drawn so that a court would have no meaningful standard against which to judge the agency's exercise of discretion. In such a case, the statute ("law") can be taken to have "committed" the decisionmaking to the agency's judgment absolutely. This construction avoids conflict with the "abuse of discretion" standard of review in § 706 — if no judicially manageable standards are available for judging how and when an agency should exercise its discretion, then it is impossible to evaluate agency action for "abuse of discretion." In addition, this construction satisfies the principle of statutory construction mentioned earlier, by identifying a separate class of cases to which § 701(a)(2) applies.
To this point our analysis does not differ significantly from that of the Court of Appeals. That court purported to apply
Overton Park did not involve an agency's refusal to take requested enforcement action. It involved an affirmative act of approval under a statute that set clear guidelines for determining when such approval should be given. Refusals to take enforcement steps generally involve precisely the opposite situation, and in that situation we think the presumption is that judicial review is not available. This Court has recognized on several occasions over many years that an agency's decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agency's absolute discretion. See United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S. 114, 123-124 (1979); United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 693 (1974); Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 182 (1967); Confiscation Cases, 7 Wall. 454 (1869). This recognition of the existence of discretion is attributable in no small part to the general unsuitability for judicial review of agency decisions to refuse enforcement.
The reasons for this general unsuitability are many. First, an agency decision not to enforce often involves a complicated balancing of a number of factors which are peculiarly within its expertise. Thus, the agency must not only assess whether a violation has occurred, but whether agency resources are best spent on this violation or another, whether the agency is likely to succeed if it acts, whether the particular enforcement action requested best fits the agency's overall policies, and, indeed, whether the agency has enough resources to undertake the action at all. An agency generally cannot act against each technical violation of the statute it is charged with enforcing. The agency is far better equipped than the courts to deal with the many variables involved
In addition to these administrative concerns, we note that when an agency refuses to act it generally does not exercise its coercive power over an individual's liberty or property rights, and thus does not infringe upon areas that courts often are called upon to protect. Similarly, when an agency does act to enforce, that action itself provides a focus for judicial review, inasmuch as the agency must have exercised its power in some manner. The action at least can be reviewed to determine whether the agency exceeded its statutory powers. See, e. g., FTC v. Klesner, 280 U.S. 19 (1929). Finally, we recognize that an agency's refusal to institute proceedings shares to some extent the characteristics of the decision of a prosecutor in the Executive Branch not to indict — a decision which has long been regarded as the special province of the Executive Branch, inasmuch as it is the Executive who is charged by the Constitution to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." U. S. Const., Art. II, § 3.
We of course only list the above concerns to facilitate understanding of our conclusion that an agency's decision not to take enforcement action should be presumed immune from judicial review under § 701(a)(2). For good reasons, such a decision has traditionally been "committed to agency discretion," and we believe that the Congress enacting the APA did not intend to alter that tradition. Cf. 5 Davis § 28:5 (APA did not significantly alter the "common law" of judicial review of agency action). In so stating, we emphasize that the decision is only presumptively unreviewable; the presumption
Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560 (1975), relied upon heavily by respondents and the majority in the Court of Appeals, presents an example of statutory language which supplied sufficient standards to rebut the presumption of unreviewability. Dunlop involved a suit by a union employee, under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, 29 U. S. C. § 481 et seq. (LMRDA), asking the Secretary of Labor to investigate and file suit to set aside a union election. Section 482 provided that, upon filing of a complaint by a union member, "[t]he Secretary shall investigate such complaint and, if he finds probable cause to believe that a violation . . . has occurred . . . he shall . . . bring a civil action . . . ." After investigating the plaintiff's claims the Secretary of Labor declined to file suit, and the plaintiff sought judicial review under the APA. This Court held that
Dunlop is thus consistent with a general presumption of unreviewability of decisions not to enforce. The statute being administered quite clearly withdrew discretion from the agency and provided guidelines for exercise of its enforcement power. Our decision that review was available was not based on "pragmatic considerations," such as those cited by the Court of Appeals, see 231 U. S. App. D. C., at 147, 718 F. 2d, at 1185, that amount to an assessment of whether the interests at stake are important enough to justify intervention in the agencies' decisionmaking. The danger that agencies may not carry out their delegated powers with sufficient vigor does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that courts are the most appropriate body to police this aspect of their performance. That decision is in the first instance for Congress, and we therefore turn to the FDCA to determine whether in this case Congress has provided us with "law to apply." If it has indicated an intent to circumscribe agency enforcement discretion, and has provided meaningful standards for defining the limits of that discretion, there is "law to apply" under § 701(a)(2), and courts
To enforce the various substantive prohibitions contained in the FDCA, the Act provides for injunctions, 21 U. S. C. § 332, criminal sanctions, §§ 333 and 335, and seizure of any offending food, drug, or cosmetic article, § 334. The Act's general provision for enforcement, § 372, provides only that "[t]he Secretary is authorized to conduct examinations and investigations . . ." (emphasis added). Unlike the statute at issue in Dunlop, § 332 gives no indication of when an injunction should be sought, and § 334, providing for seizures, is framed in the permissive — the offending food, drug, or cosmetic "shall be liable to be proceeded against." The section on criminal sanctions states baldly that any person who violates the Act's substantive prohibitions "shall be imprisoned. . . or fined." Respondents argue that this statement mandates criminal prosecution of every violator of the Act but they adduce no indication in case law or legislative history that such was Congress' intention in using this language, which is commonly found in the criminal provisions of Title 18 of the United States Code. See, e. g., 18 U. S. C. § 471 (counterfeiting); 18 U. S. C. § 1001 (false statements to Government officials); 18 U. S. C. § 1341 (mail fraud). We are unwilling to attribute such a sweeping meaning to this language, particularly since the Act charges the Secretary only with recommending prosecution; any criminal prosecutions must be instituted by the Attorney General. The Act's enforcement provisions thus commit complete discretion to the Secretary to decide how and when they should be exercised.
Respondents nevertheless present three separate authorities that they claim provide the courts with sufficient indicia of an intent to circumscribe enforcement discretion. Two of these may be dealt with summarily. First, we reject
We also find singularly unhelpful the agency "policy statement" on which the Court of Appeals placed great reliance. We would have difficulty with this statement's vague language even if it were a properly adopted agency rule. Although the statement indicates that the agency considered itself "obligated" to take certain investigative actions, that language did not arise in the course of discussing the agency's discretion to exercise its enforcement power, but rather in the context of describing agency policy with respect to unapproved uses of approved drugs by physicians. In addition, if read to circumscribe agency enforcement discretion, the statement conflicts with the agency rule on judicial review, 21 CFR § 10.45(d)(2) (1984), which states that "[t]he Commissioner shall object to judicial review . . . if (i) [t]he matter is committed by law to the discretion of the Commissioner, e. g., a decision to recommend or not to recommend civil or criminal enforcement action . . . ." But in any event the policy statement was attached to a rule that was never adopted. Whatever force such a statement might have, and leaving to one side the problem of whether an agency's rules might under certain circumstances provide courts with adequate guidelines for informed judicial review of decisions not to enforce, we do not think the language of the agency's "policy statement" can plausibly be read to override the agency's express assertion of unreviewable discretion contained in the above rule.
Respondents seek to draw from this section the negative implication that the Secretary is required to report for prosecution all "major" violations of the Act, however those might be defined, and that it therefore supplies the needed indication of an intent to limit agency enforcement discretion. We think that this section simply does not give rise to the negative implication which respondents seek to draw from it. The section is not addressed to agency proceedings designed to discover the existence of violations, but applies only to a situation where a violation has already been established to the satisfaction of the agency. We do not believe the section speaks to the criteria which shall be used by the agency for investigating possible violations of the Act.
We therefore conclude that the presumption that agency decisions not to institute proceedings are unreviewable under 5 U. S. C. § 701(a)(2) is not overcome by the enforcement provisions of the FDCA. The FDA's decision not to take the
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring.
Today the Court holds that individual decisions of the Food and Drug Administration not to take enforcement action in response to citizen requests are presumptively not reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. S. C. §§ 701-706. I concur in this decision. This general presumption is based on the view that, in the normal course of events, Congress intends to allow broad discretion for its administrative agencies to make particular enforcement decisions, and there often may not exist readily discernible "law to apply" for courts to conduct judicial review of nonenforcement decisions. See Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 410 (1971).
On this understanding of the scope of today's decision, I join the Court's opinion.
Easy cases at times produce bad law, for in the rush to reach a clearly ordained result, courts may offer up principles, doctrines, and statements that calmer reflection, and a fuller understanding of their implications in concrete settings, would eschew. In my view, the "presumption of unreviewability" announced today is a product of that lack of discipline that easy cases make all too easy. The majority, eager to reverse what it goes out of its way to label as an "implausible result," ante, at 827, not only does reverse, as I agree it should, but along the way creates out of whole cloth the notion that agency decisions not to take "enforcement action" are unreviewable unless Congress has rather specifically indicated otherwise. Because this "presumption of unreviewability" is fundamentally at odds with rule-of-law principles firmly embedded in our jurisprudence, because it seeks to truncate an emerging line of judicial authority subjecting enforcement discretion to rational and principled constraint, and because, in the end, the presumption may well be indecipherable, one can only hope that it will come to be understood as a relic of a particular factual setting in which the full implications of such a presumption were neither confronted nor understood.
I write separately to argue for a different basis of decision: that refusals to enforce, like other agency actions, are reviewable in the absence of a "clear and convincing" congressional intent to the contrary, but that such refusals warrant deference when, as in this case, there is nothing to suggest
In response to respondents' petition, the FDA Commissioner stated that the FDA would not pursue the complaint
The FDA may well have been legally required to provide this statement of basis and purpose for its decision not to take the action requested. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, such a statement is required when an agency denies a "written application, petition, or other request of an interested person made in connection with any agency proceedings."
First, respondents on summary judgment neither offered nor attempted to offer any evidence that the reasons for the FDA's refusal to act were other than the reasons stated by the agency. Second, as the Court correctly concludes, the FDCA is not a mandatory statute that requires the FDA to prosecute all violations of the Act. Thus, the FDA clearly has significant discretion to choose which alleged violations of the Act to prosecute. Third, the basis on which the agency chose to exercise this discretion — that other problems were viewed as more pressing — generally will be enough to pass muster. Certainly it is enough to do so here, where the number of people currently affected by the alleged misbranding is around 200, and where the drugs are integral elements in a regulatory scheme over which the States exercise pervasive and direct control.
When a statute does not mandate full enforcement, I agree with the Court that an agency is generally "far better equipped than the courts to deal with the many variables involved in the proper ordering of its priorities." Ante, at 831-832. As long as the agency is choosing how to allocate finite enforcement resources, the agency's choice will be entitled to substantial deference, for the choice among valid alternative enforcement policies is precisely the sort of choice over which agencies generally have been left substantial discretion by their enabling statutes. On the merits, then, a decision not to enforce that is based on valid resource-allocation decisions will generally not be "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law," 5 U. S. C. § 706(2)(A). The decision in this case is no exception to this principle.
The Court, however, is not content to rest on this ground. Instead, the Court transforms the arguments for deferential review on the merits into the wholly different notion that "enforcement" decisions are presumptively unreviewable
This "presumption of unreviewability" is also a far cry from prior understandings of the Administrative Procedure Act. As the Court acknowledges, the APA presumptively entitles any person "adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action," 5 U. S. C. § 702 — which is defined to include the "failure to act," 5 U. S. C. § 551 (13) — to judicial review of that action. That presumption can be defeated if the substantive statute precludes review, § 701(a)(1), or if the action is committed to agency discretion by law, § 701(a)(2), but as Justice Harlan's opinion in Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967), made clear in interpreting the APA's judicial review provisions:
See generally H. R. Rep. No. 1980, 79th Cong., 2d Sess., 41 (1946) (to preclude APA review, a statute "must upon its face
Moreover, for at least two reasons it is inappropriate to rely on notions of prosecutorial discretion to hold agency inaction unreviewable. First, since the dictum in Nixon, the Court has made clear that prosecutorial discretion is not as unfettered or unreviewable as the half-sentence in Nixon suggests. As one of the leading commentators in this area has noted, "the case law since 1974 is strongly on the side of reviewability." 2 K. Davis, Administrative Law § 9:6, p. 240 (1979). In Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 28 (1974), instead of invoking notions of "absolute" prosecutorial discretion, we held that certain potentially vindictive exercises of prosecutorial discretion were both reviewable and impermissible. The "retaliatory use" of prosecutorial power is no longer tolerated. Thigpen v. Roberts, 468 U.S. 27, 30 (1984). Nor do prosecutors have the discretion to induce guilty pleas through promises that are not kept. Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63 (1977); Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 262 (1971). And in rejecting on the merits a claim of improper prosecutorial conduct in Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357 (1978), we clearly laid to rest any notion that prosecutorial discretion is unreviewable no matter what the basis is upon which it is exercised:
See also Wayte v. United States, ante, at 608. Thus, even in the area of criminal prosecutions, prosecutorial discretion is not subject to a "presumption of unreviewability." See generally Vorenberg, Decent Restraint of Prosecutorial Power, 94 Harv. L. Rev. 1521, 1537-1543 (1981). If a plaintiff makes a sufficient threshold showing that a prosecutor's discretion has been exercised for impermissible reasons, judicial review is available.
Second, arguments about prosecutorial discretion do not necessarily translate into the context of agency refusals to act. "In appropriate circumstances the Court has made clear that traditions of prosecutorial discretion do not immunize from judicial scrutiny cases in which the enforcement decisions of an administrator were motivated by improper factors or were otherwise contrary to law." Marshall v. Jerrico, Inc., 446 U.S. 238, 249 (1980) (citations omitted). Criminal prosecutorial decisions vindicate only intangible interests, common to society as a whole, in the enforcement of the criminal law. The conduct at issue has already occurred; all that remains is society's general interest in assuring that the guilty are punished. See Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 619 (1973) ("[A] private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another"). In contrast, requests for administrative enforcement typically seek to prevent concrete and future injuries that Congress has made cognizable — injuries that result, for example, from misbranded drugs, such as alleged in this case, or unsafe nuclear powerplants, see, e. g., Florida Power & Light Co. v. Lorion, ante, p. 729 — or to obtain palpable benefits that Congress has intended to bestow — such as labor union elections free of corruption, see Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560 (1975). Entitlements to receive these benefits or to be free of these injuries often run to specific classes of individuals
Perhaps most important, the sine qua non of the APA was to alter inherited judicial reluctance to constrain the exercise of discretionary administrative power — to rationalize and make fairer the exercise of such discretion. Since passage of the APA, the sustained effort of administrative law has been to "continuously narro[w] the category of actions considered to be so discretionary as to be exempted from review." Shapiro, Administrative Discretion: The Next Stage, 92 Yale L. J. 1487, 1489, n. 11 (1983). Discretion may well be necessary to carry out a variety of important administrative functions, but discretion can be a veil for laziness, corruption, incompetency, lack of will, or other motives, and for that reason "the presence of discretion should not bar a court from considering a claim of illegal or arbitrary use of discretion." L. Jaffe, Judicial Control of Administrative Action 375 (1965). Judicial review is available under the APA in the absence of a clear and convincing demonstration that Congress intended to preclude it precisely so that agencies, whether in rulemaking, adjudicating, acting or failing to act, do not become stagnant backwaters of caprice and lawlessness. "Law has reached its finest moments when it has freed man from the unlimited discretion of some ruler, some civil or military official, some bureaucrat." United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98, 101 (1951).
The "tradition" of unreviewability upon which the majority relies is refuted most powerfully by a firmly entrenched body of lower court case law that holds reviewable various agency refusals to act.
To be sure, the Court no doubt takes solace in the view that it has created only a "presumption" of unreviewability, and that this "presumption may be rebutted where the substantive statute has provided guidelines for the agency to follow in exercising its enforcement powers." Ante, at 832-833. But this statement implies far too narrow a reliance on positive law, either statutory or constitutional, see ibid., as the sole source of limitations on agency discretion not to enforce. In my view, enforcement discretion is also channelled by traditional background understandings against which the APA was enacted and which Congress hardly could be thought to have intended to displace in the APA.
Perhaps the Court's reference to guidance from the "substantive statute" is meant to encompass such concerns and to allow the "common law" of judicial review of agency action to provide standards by which inaction can be reviewed. But in that case I cannot fathom what content the Court's "presumption of unreviewability" might have. If inaction can be reviewed to assure that it does not result from improper abnegation of jurisdiction, from complete abdication of statutory responsibilities, from violation of constitutional rights, or from factors that offend principles of rational and fair administrative process, it would seem that a court must always inquire into the reasons for the agency's action before deciding whether the presumption applies.
That is the basis upon which I would decide this case. Under § 706(A)(2) and Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967), agency action, including the failure to act, is reviewable to assure that it is not "arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion," unless Congress has manifested a clear and convincing intent to preclude review. Review of enforcement decisions must be suitably deferential in light of the necessary flexibility the agencies must have in this area, but at least when "enforcement" inaction allegedly deprives citizens of statutory benefits or exposes them to harms against which Congress has sought to provide protection, review must be on the merits to ensure that the agency is exercising its discretion within permissible bounds. See Berger, Administrative Arbitrariness: A Synthesis, 78 Yale L. J. 965 (1969); L. Jaffe, Judicial Control of Administrative Action 375 (1965).
The problem of agency refusal to act is one of the pressing problems of the modern administrative state, given the enormous powers, for both good and ill, that agency inaction, like agency action, holds over citizens. As Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560 (1975), recognized, the problems and dangers of agency inaction are too important, too prevalent, and too multifaceted to admit of a single facile solution under which "enforcement" decisions are "presumptively unreviewable." Over time, I believe the approach announced today will come to be understood, not as mandating that courts
In addition, scholars have noted that the tradition of unreviewability of prosecutor's decisions developed at a time when virtually all executive action was considered unreviewable. In asking what accounts for this "tradition," one scholar offered the following rhetorical questions:
"Is it because the tradition became settled during the nineteenth century when courts were generally assuming that judicial intrusion into any administration would be unfortunate? Is it because the tradition became settled while the Supreme Court was actuated by its 1840 remark that `The interference of the Courts with the performance of the ordinary duties of the executive departments of the government, would be productive of nothing but mischief.' [citing Decatur v. Paulding, 14 Pet. 497, 516 (1840)]. Is it because the tradition became settled before the courts made the twentieth-century discovery that the courts can interfere with executive action to protect against abuses but at the same time can avoid taking over the executive function? Is it because the tradition became settled before the successes of the modern system of limited judicial review became fully recognized?
"On the basis of what the courts know today about leaving administration to administrators but at the same time providing an effective check to protect against abuses, should the courts not take a fresh look at the tradition that prevents them from reviewing the prosecuting function?" K. Davis, Discretionary Justice 211 (1969) (footnote omitted).
To be sure, some of these cases involved the refusal to initiate rulemaking proceedings, and the majority expressly disavows any claim that its presumption of unreviewability applies to such refusals. See ante, at 825, n. 2. But the majority offers no explanation of how an enforcement request that seeks protection of the public or statutory beneficiaries from present and future concrete harms, or from loss of deserved benefits, implicates considerations substantially different from those at stake in judicial review of the refusal to initiate rulemaking proceedings.
" `[N]egative order' and `affirmative order' are not appropriate terms of art. . . . `Negative' has really been an obfuscating adjective in that it implied a search for a distinction — non-action as against action — which does not involve the real considerations on which rest, as we have seen, the reviewability of Commission orders within the framework of its discretionary authority and within the general criteria of justiciability. `Negative' and `affirmative,' in the context of these problems, is as unilluminating and mischief-making a distinction as the outmoded line between `nonfeasance' and `misfeasance.'
". . . An order of the Commission dismissing a complaint on the merits and maintaining the status quo is an exercise of administrative function, no more and no less, than an order directing some change in status. . . . In the application of relevant canons of judicial review an order of the Commission directing the adoption of a practice might raise considerations absent from a situation where the Commission merely allowed such a practice to continue. But this bears on the disposition of a case and should not control jurisdiction." 307 U. S., at 140-142 (emphasis added; footnotes omitted).