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The project of bolstering the administrative state’s perceived legitimacy is central to administrative law. To enhance agencies’ legitimacy with the public, generations of judges and scholars have variously called for changes designed to insulate technocrats from political influence, involve interested members of the public, and subject agencies to greater political control. Despite the pitch of debate in elite legal circles, however, little is known about the views of ordinary citizens—the very people whose beliefs constitute popular legitimacy.

This Article provides evidence of Americans’ actual views concerning what features contribute to agencies’ perceived legitimacy. It presents the results of a set of experiments in which each participant views a policy vignette with varied information concerning the structures and procedures involved in generating the policy. Participants are then asked to assess, by their own lights, the policy’s legitimacy.

The results support the century-old idea that empowering politically insulated, expert decision-makers legitimizes agencies. With the insulation of civil servants from appointees and the independent-agency form under strain, this finding implies that, for proponents of a robust administrative state, an independent and technocratic civil service is worth defending. There also is some evidence that public participation in agency decision-making bolsters agencies’ perceived legitimacy. By contrast, the theory—influential on the Supreme Court—that greater presidential involvement enhances legitimacy receives no support.