This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a couple of cases that could completely upend the way federal agencies regulate almost anything in the United States. The debate revolves around a legal principle called Chevron deference that allows federal agencies to interpret laws intended to protect consumers, public health and the environment. Now the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears on the verge of either overturning or limiting the scope of Chevron’s deference.
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the edge I spoke with legal experts about what’s happening and what the Supreme Court’s Chevron deference decisions could ultimately mean for Americans. “The real question is how far will they go?” says Judy Freeman, director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University. “They could actually upend that precedent. This could lead to a great deal of uncertainty and chaos.”
“They could actually upend that precedent. This could lead to a great deal of uncertainty and chaos.”
What is the Chevron principle?
Essentially, it allows judges to defer to federal agencies when it comes to knowing how to implement the law if there are disagreements about how to interpret language passed by Congress. The assumption is that the agency has more experience on this matter than the federal judge assigned to the case.
The practice was already in place long before it even had a name, according to Ian Finn, senior counsel at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. It became known as the Chevron Doctrine after the 1984 case, Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The funny thing is that the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, actually lost the case, and the Supreme Court upheld the decision that was in favor of Chevron. It allowed Ronald Reagan’s industry-friendly Environmental Protection Agency to stick to its lax interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
But since then, respect for Chevron has empowered agencies to take initiatives on issues that legislation may not yet have been able to address, such as climate change and broadband access. This has led to disagreements, for example, over how far the EPA can go to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and how far the FCC can go in enforcing net neutrality.
Why is the Supreme Court considering the matter now?
Despite initial support from conservative groups, Finn says Chevron’s deference has recently become a target of industries pushing a liberal agenda. “There has been a steady march in the last 10 years or so of concerted efforts to try to question and invalidate the doctrine,” Finn says. the edge. In the second term of the Obama administration, Finn says, “We began to see the idea of de-respecting Chevron as a way to diminish the ability of federal agencies to enforce federal law.”
Two cases have reached the Supreme Court that put the longstanding Chevron doctrine in jeopardy: Luber Brite Enterprises v. Raymundo And Relentless, Inc. Against the Ministry of Commerce. Plaintiffs in both cases are challenging a rule that would make fishing companies pay for observers they are legally required to bring on board their vessels to monitor their operations. They are asking judges to overturn the Chevron ruling and are getting support from other industry groups ranging from America’s gun owners to e-cigarette manufacturers.
“It is difficult to overstate how widespread this principle has been and has established the work of our federal government.”
“Joe Biden — and his predecessors — have used the broad authority granted to them through Chevron deference to go after law-abiding gun owners on several different occasions,” Eric Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, said in a statement last year. “Americans are tired of one man with a pen hounding our constitutionally guaranteed rights, and we urge the court to reverse Chevron.”
If they succeed, they could force a sweeping overhaul of how industries are regulated in the United States, by taking power away from federal agencies and placing more responsibility on federal courts.
“It is difficult to overstate how widespread and foundational this principle has been for the work of our federal government,” Finn says. “I described the ground rules or the foundation upon which the system that we have (works) — for the federal agencies that enforce the laws and the courts, they are the backstop.”
What happens if SCOTUS decides to flip Chevron?
“That will unleash a kind of chaos of time as the federal courts decide what they think all these laws mean,” Freeman says. the edge. “This can lead to a lot of inconsistency and confusion for regulated agencies and parties.”
Freeman has a full interview at the Harvard Gazette This shows how bad the impact of such a decision would be on the courts:
Chevron is of little interest to the Supreme Court, which largely ignores it. But it matters for lower courts, which continue to use their two-step test to manage a torrent of lawsuits challenging agencies’ interpretations of every kind, from the most general to the most complex. When laws are not clear, courts consider whether the agency’s interpretation is reasonable, well-justified, and consistent with the design of the law. If so, the agency wins. Without Chevron, federal judges would become entangled in complex questions of legal interpretation that require scientific, economic, or technological expertise. The policy choices best suited to agencies with the capacity to research and gather information, and obligations to consult with stakeholders, will increasingly be made by federal judges, who have none of their expertise and do none of these things.
Even Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh acknowledged that ruling out Chevron’s deference could come as a “shock” to the legal system during oral arguments on Wednesday, though he downplayed the long-term effects of that shock. He shrugged it off, saying there were “shocks to the system every four or eight years when a new administration comes in, whether that’s telecommunications law, securities law, competition law, or environmental law.” New York times Reports.
While Chevron deference as we know it may not survive the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority, the justices could choose to set limits on when to grant deference rather than do away with the principle entirely. “Either way, I think it’s a moment when it’s going to be difficult for federal agencies to do the work they need to do,” Freeman says. When gridlock in Congress poses a major obstacle to passing legislation, it often falls to federal agencies to take action.
So this is a big deal, huh?
Yes. There’s a lot more at stake than fishing.
“This is going to be a very important decision for the balance of power between Congress, the president, and the courts. That’s why the stakes are so high,” Freeman says. “It seems like the Supreme Court is becoming more powerful with respect to the other two branches. And we should be concerned about that.”
The Supreme Court recently made a series of decisions that weakened the federal agency’s authority—particularly strengthening the “key questions” doctrine in the West Virginia v. EPA. According to this principle, courts do not have to defer to federal agencies on matters of major national importance that Congress has not expressly written into legislation.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision on Chevron’s compliance by late June.