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Debt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America, an excerpt from a new book by Prof. David A. Skeel, Jr.

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Debt's Dominion by Prof. David A. Skeel, Jr. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

Although the political factors that steered the bankruptcy debates away from an administrative, English-style system have never fully disappeared, serious movements to add a governmental overseer to bankruptcy emerged in both the 1930s and the 1970s. Of particular interest for present purposes is the earlier movement, which grew out of the Donovan and Thacher reports in the early 1930s. As we saw earlier, the Thacher report recommendations quickly found their way into Congress as the 1932 Hastings-Michener bill and were the subject of extensive hearings before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Although there was general agreement that bankruptcy practice in New York was corrupt, witnesses debated whether there were similar problems elsewhere and whether the administrative proposals were an appropriate solution.

1. Strengthening of Procedure in the Judicial System: The Report of the Attorney General on Bankruptcy Law and Practice, Senate Document No. 72-65 (1932); Report on the Administration of Bankruptcy Estates, 71st Cong. (Committee Print 1931).

2. Joint Hearings on S.3866 Before the Subcommittees on the Judiciary, 72d Cong., lst sess. (1932) (hereinafter, 1932 Hearings).

3. Act of March 3, 1933, chap. 204, sec. 77, 47 Stat. 1474 (1933); Act of June 7, 1934, chap. 424, sec. 77B, 48 Stat. 912 (1934).

4. Public Law No. 75-696, 52 Stat. 840 (1938) (codified prior to repeal at 11 U.S.C. (1938)) (hereinafter, Chandler Act).

5. Hunt’s most frequently cited article is a legislative update on the deliberations on the Chandler bill. Reuben G. Hunt, “The Progress of the Chandler Bill,” 42 Commercial Law Journal 195 (1937).

6. Colonel William Donovan, “The Proposed Revision of the National Bankruptcy Act,” Credit Monthly, April 1920, 17. The subsequent quote appears at 17.

7. F.B. McComas, “The Donovan Plan for Bankruptcy Reform as Interpreted in the West,” Credit Monthly, September 1930, 26.

8. Strengthening of Procedure, 1. President Hoover’s announcement is quoted and the details of the Thacher investigation are described at 1.

9. Strengthening of Procedure, 33.

10. See, for example, Paul Mahoney, “The Exchange as Regulator,” 83 Virginia Law Review 1453, 1472-73 (1997).

11. W. Randolph Montgomery, “The Donovan Plan for Bankruptcy Reform Answers Its Critics,” Credit Monthly, August 1930, 11, 12.

12. Strengthening of Procedure, 104.

13. Strengthening of Procedure, 118.

14. Strengthening of Procedure, 25.

15. The best account of Progressivism and populism is still Hofstadter, The Age of Reform.

16. David A. Skeel Jr., “Vern Countryman and the Path of Progressive (and Populist) Bankruptcy Scholarship,” 113 Harvard Law Review 1075, 1084-87 (2000)
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