In the 1940s and 1950s, the administrative state served as a powerful engine of discrimination against homosexuals, with agency officials routinely implementing anti-gay policies that reinforced gays’ and lesbians’ subordinate social and legal status. By the mid-1980s, however, many bureaucrats had become incidental allies, subverting statutory bans on gay and lesbian foster and adoptive parenting and promoting gay-inclusive curricula in public schools. This Article asks how and why this shift happened, finding the answer not in legal doctrine or legislative enactments, but in scientific developments that influenced the decisions of social workers and other bureaucrats working in the administrative state. This phenomenon continues today, with educators resisting laws that limit transgender students’ bathroom access.
By uncovering this bureaucratic resistance, this Article demonstrates the administrative state’s dynamism and that bureaucracy can be an important site of legal change. Because bureaucrats are charged with enforcing legislation, their actions also have significant normative implications, raising separation of powers and democratic legitimacy concerns. However, the very structure of administrative bureaucracies creates conflict between the branches, as civil servants are hired for their professional knowledge and abilities, yet are also responsible for complying with legislative mandates that may contradict that expertise. This Article argues that bureaucratic resistance is inevitable, can be legitimate, and may be desirable.