Sunstein confirmed as Washington regulator

Cass Sunstein

Professor Cass Sunstein ’78

The U.S. Senate voted yesterday to confirm Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein ’78 as administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget.

The administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget oversees the effectiveness of federal regulations. The job is viewed as one of the most crucial in the new administration, with responsibility for tackling many new regulatory issues, including an overhaul of the financial services industry, an attempt to pass universal healthcare, and new efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.

In April, President Barack Obama ’91 nominated Sunstein to head the office: “As one of America’s leading constitutional scholars, Cass Sunstein has distinguished himself in a range of fields, including administrative law and policy, environmental law, and behavioral economics.  He is uniquely qualified to lead my Administration’s regulatory reform agenda at this crucial stage in our history. Cass is not only a valued advisor, he is a dear friend and I am proud to have him on my team,” said Obama.

A prolific scholar, Sunstein is known for his expertise in the field of law and behavioral economics, which seeks to shape law and policy around the way research shows people actually behave.

Sunstein has thought extensively about how laws and regulation should deal with some of the biggest hazards of the 21st century. In his most recent book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” Sunstein and co-author Richard Thaler discuss how people can be encouraged to make better decisions. He is also the author of the recent “Worst-Case Scenarios,” which discusses how citizens and leaders should assess dangers—ranging from climate change to terrorism—and react in ways that best protect present and future generations.

Sunstein joined the HLS faculty last year as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, from the University of Chicago Law School.

Following his graduation from Harvard Law School, Sunstein went on to clerk for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He also worked in the Department of Justice as an attorney-advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel.

The Senate vote was 57-40, with only five Republicans backing the nomination. Sunstein’s confirmation was held up for months after his nomination came under attack, mainly by conservatives who criticized him for some of his writings on animal rights, end-of-life care and regulation of hunting rights, among other issues.

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman said during the Senate debate that hunters were concerned about Sunstein’s position on gun rights. Sunstein has offered assurances that he supports the individual right to arms and will take no steps to promote litigation on behalf of animals, Lieberman said.  “He is extraordinarily well-qualified for this position,” Lieberman said.