Miller Center

Quinn Mulroy

Politics, Columbia University

Private Litigation, Public Policy Enforcement: The Regulatory Power of Private Litigation and the American Bureaucracy

Mulroy photo

Quinn Mulroy is Assistant Professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University

Mulroy received a Ph.D. in American Politics from Columbia University where she worked with Ira Katznelson. She received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California-Berkeley in 2001.

She studies American politics, with a substantive focus on race and labor policy, the legal system, and regulatory agencies and a methodological interest in combining historical and quantitative approaches to research. Her current research project investigates the role of private power, particularly that supplied by private litigation, in the American regulatory state, and uses archival and statistical work to explore how and under what conditions regulatory agencies motivate private actors to engage in litigation that advances regulatory goals. Her work has appeared in Studies in American Political Development ("The Rise and Decline of Presidential Populism" (October 2004), co-authored with Terri Bimes, University of California-Berkeley), and she is a researcher with the American Institutions Project (under Ira Katznelson and John Lapinski) at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia. Her research interests include American political development, public policy, political institutions, the courts and litigation, bureaucracy, Congress, and race and labor policy.

Her dissertation examined the role of private power, particularly that supplied by private litigation, in the American regulatory state. While traditional accounts suggest that the progressive regulatory state that came into being over the course of the extended New Deal and Great Society periods is weak when compared to its counterparts abroad, Mulroy's research builds on a revisionist strain within the APD literature which identifies strategies by which a lean liberal state can achieve impressive regulatory results. Through a historical analysis of the development of the regulatory capacity of several agencies, she argued that constrained agencies may look outside themselves, and their formally granted administrative powers, for enforcement power by developing incentive structures that encourage private actors to engage in litigation that advances regulatory goals. She found that variation in the use of this alternate source of regulatory power by agencies can be explained by factors related to an agency's institutional development and formation, but also that the character, scope, and activation of this pathway of enforcement over time is contingent upon political and temporal considerations. By reconsidering how to integrate informal mechanisms of enforcement, like agency-motivated private litigation, into theories of bureaucratic regulation, her project aimed to contribute to our practical understanding of 'day-to-day' agency behavior and to our conceptions and assessments of state capacity, more broadly.

Fellowship year: 2011

Mentor: Dan Carpenter, Harvard University

Selected Recent Publications

Was the South Pivotal? Situated Partisanship and Policy Coalitions during the New Deal and Fair Deal.” with Ira Katznelson, Journal of Politics 74, no. 2 (April 2012): 604-620.

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