UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Penn State Law professor Jud Mathews received the Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers grant from the Humboldt Foundation to research law, attend courses, and work with faculty at the Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany. Mathews, a professor of law at Penn State Law in University Park and affiliate professor at the School of International Affairs, was on sabbatical from June 2021 until July 2022.
Mathews researched German administrative law and worked with Professor Dr. Anna-Bettina Kaiser, LL.M. at Humboldt University. His research project concerned the rule of law in modern administrative states, where important decisions are made by government agencies.
“Some features of American administrative law that have long been accepted are now coming in for challenges from some courts and scholars,” Mathews said. “In particular, one argument runs that administrative law is ‘unlawful’ because agencies impose legal duties, combine multiple functions, and have a role in saying what the law means.
Many of these features, it is claimed, were borrowed from Germany in the late nineteenth century by American legal reformers.”
Mathews’ research challenges these claims by showing how administrative law can be fully compatible with rule-of-law values. Using German law, the alleged source of the problem, as an example, Mathews studied how legal doctrine subjects administrative power to a coherent system of legal controls that provide robust protections for individuals’ important interests.
Doing this work required understanding the foundations of German administrative law and where it fits into the German legal system.
Mathews explained some of the challenges. “The differences in legal language go deeper than translation—the concepts are different. Trying to bridge that gap between what we mean and they mean is a challenge. But thinking about the categories and questions that German scholars use are helpful to understanding our own law better. It was interesting and valuable for me to see that up close,” Mathews said.
Vice Admiral (Ret.) James W. Houck, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs said, “Studying with international colleagues leads to new questions and ways of thinking. Jud Mathews can share these unique perspectives with our Penn State Law students and broaden their understanding about legal systems and procedures.”
Mathews’ sabbatical included giving presentations and teaching law students. He presented his research to groups in both Germany and Norway. He also filled in as a professor for a few weeks in a course at the Humboldt University on U.S. constitutional law.
In Giessen, he taught a guest class on U.S. administrative law to German law students as part of a course on German administrative law. He also taught a guest class in Norway to Norwegian students on U.S. constitutional law at the University of Bergen.
When he returned to teach at Penn State Law, Mathews applied his research on German administrative law to his U.S. administrative law course. “In my teaching, I’m framing questions a bit more how a visiting German professor might. When you look through another perspective, it shows you what’s distinctive about your own perspective. You take for granted that the way you approach things is the definitive way. Bringing in that other perspective shows that’s not the case. It can generate new insights.”
Mathews’ published works that address German law include:
- Extending Rights’ Reach: Constitutions, Private Law, and Judicial Power (Oxford University Press, 2018);
- Administrative Agencies, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law (2022);
- Reasonableness and Proportionality in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Administrative Law (Peter Cane, Herwig Hofmann, Eric Ip, and Peter Lindseth eds., Oxford University Press, 2021).