Supreme Court Clashes with Executive Branch in Major Battle Over Control of Policy Making

( – In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled on Chevron v. Natural Resource Defense Council, which established a legal test as to whether the judicial system should defer to an agency with experts in a field for interpretation of an ambiguous or silent part of a law. The principle became known as the Chevron deference. According to Cornell Law School, subsequent SCOTUS decisions narrowed the scope of the deference, requiring agencies interpreting the law to go through formal proceedings to qualify. Now, the Chevron deference question is in front of the Supreme Court again.

What Happened?

In November 2023, SCOTUS accepted the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, which involves a dispute between the Department of Commerce and a group of commercial fishermen over whether the National Marine Fisheries Service has the authority to require the industry to pay for at-sea monitoring programs.

The second case before the court that may affect the Chevron deference is Relentless v. Department of Commerce, which also involves a case brought by a group of commercial fishermen for the same reason. SCOTUSblog coverage stated that the justices on the court would likely discard the doctrine.

Arguments For and Against

Politico reported that advocates for Chevron want to keep the rule in place because Congress doesn’t have the time nor the expertise to craft legislation that addresses every single issue that may come up in an industry. The doctrine defers to agency experts to use their knowledge on the subject to interpret parts of the law that legislators have no possible way to foresee.

The Biden Administration believes the doctrine needs to stay in place. The Justice Department reportedly wrote in its brief that when there is a “statutory decision” with several possible interpretations, the political branch with expertise in the matter should be trusted to make the right decision.

Those against the 1984 decision believe it goes against the separation of powers outlined in the US Constitution. They claim it gives agencies too much power, allows them to become judges themselves, and limits the courts’ decision-making.

Previous opinions shared by Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh indicate they favor the overturning of the Chevron decision. A writing by Justice Clarence Thomas in 2015 said the deference allowed the EPA to overstep its authority — a move that “alarmed” him. The New York Times reported that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was concerned that overturning the doctrine would make the court instant policymakers.

The decisions in the cases before the court will determine whether the Chevron deference is further cut back or reversed altogether.

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