SCOTUS Ends Chevron to Stop Administrative State

Supreme Court takes sledgehammer to federal agency power in Chevron case


by Rachel Frazin and Zach Schonfeld, The Hill.com, June 28, 2024

The Supreme Court took a sledgehammer to executive agencies’ power Friday by overruling a prominent precedent that bolstered their ability to implement regulations in wide areas of American life, including consumer and environmental protections.

In an 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority upended a 40-year administrative law precedent that gave agencies across the federal government leeway to interpret ambiguous laws through rulemaking.

Known as Chevron deference, the now-overturned legal doctrine instructed judges to defer to agencies in cases where the law is ambiguous.

Now, judges will substitute their own best interpretation of the law, instead of deferring to the agencies — effectively making it easier to overturn regulations that govern wide-ranging aspects of American life.

This includes rules governing toxic chemicals, drugs and medicine, climate change, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency and more.

“Chevron is overruled,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by his five conservative colleagues.

“Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

However, Roberts sought to prevent the decision from impacting prior cases that were decided based on Chevron deference.

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“We do not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron framework,” he wrote. “The holdings of those cases that specific agency actions are lawful—including the Clean Air Act holding of Chevron itself—are still subject to statutory stare decisis despite our change in interpretive methodology.”

The Supreme Court’s three liberals dissented, saying courts will now play a “commanding role” that Congress has not given them. Justice Elena Kagan, who authored the dissent, read it aloud from the bench, a rarity that underscores the justices’ sharp disagreements in the case.

“At its core, Chevron is about respecting that allocation of responsibility—the conferral of primary authority over regulatory matters to agencies, not courts,” Kagan wrote.

“Today, the majority does not respect that judgment. It gives courts the power to make all manner of scientific and technical judgments. It gives courts the power to make all manner of policy calls,” she added.

The move hands a major victory to conservative and anti-regulatory interests that have looked to eliminate the precedent as part of a broader attack on the growing size of the “administrative state.” The Biden administration defended the precedent before the high court. 

It also effectively represents Justice Neil Gorsuch overturning a precedent that upheld rules issued under his own mother, who was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Reagan administration. Gorsuch wrote a separate opinion calling Chevron a “judge-made fiction.”

“Today, the Court places a tombstone on Chevron no one can miss. In doing so, the Court returns judges to interpretive rules that have guided federal courts since the Nation’s founding,” Gorsuch wrote.

Friday’s opinion follows a series of Supreme Court decisions rolling back the powers of executive agencies.

The case is not the first time the high court’s conservative majority has clawed back federal agency power in recent years.

It ruled in 2021 that agencies cannot rule on significant issues without “clear congressional authorization” — creating a higher legal bar for executive branch actions to clear.  

The justices are also mulling whether to claw back the Securities and Exchange Commission’s in-house enforcement system to seek civil penalties, with a decision expected later this month. 

Earlier this week, the justices clawed back the Securities and Exchange Commission’s powers.

But the conservative-majority court did reject another challenge to the “administrative state” last month when it upheld the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s funding mechanism

The challenge to Chevron before the court came through two separate but similar cases where herring fishermen challenged a rule requiring companies to pay for federal monitors onboard their vessels.

In ruling against the fishermen, lower courts invoked Chevron and deferred to the agencies in the cases, known as Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused from the former case, as she took part in it on a lower court. 
 

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