SCOTUS to Determine Future of Chevron Deference
The U.S. Supreme Court has now granted certiorari in two cases challenging the continued viability of its long-standing decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The two cases, which will be heard sometime in January, both ask the Court to overrule or at least curtail so-called “Chevron deference.”
Precedent Established in Chevron
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), courts must defer to a federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute that the agency is charged with administering, even if they are inclined to rule another way. As explained by Justice John Paul Stevens, the analysis involves a two-step process. As Justice Stevens explained:
First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. If, however, the court determines Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction on the statute ... Rather, if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.
The Court’s decision in Chevron is one of the most frequently cited administrative law decisions. Because Chevron deference is also credited with strengthening the power of federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Communications Commission, it has also come under fire by legal scholar, lawmakers, and even the Supreme Court.
Issues Before the Supreme Court
In Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act’s requirement that vessel owners procure and pay for certain monitors by contracting with private entities. According to the First Circuit, the rule is a permissible exercise of the agency’s authority. In granting certiorari, the justices agreed to consider the following question: “Whether the court should overruleChevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.”
In Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the D.C. Circuit deferred to the Department of Commerce’s interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In also holding that the federal government may require certain fishing vessels to pay for federal monitoring staff on their boats, the appeals court reasoned that “the penalties in a broadly applicable section of the [MSA] appear to recognize the possibility of industry-contracted and funded observers beyond [a single] context.” On appeal, the Supreme Court agreed address the following question: “Whether the court should overrule Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.”
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused from the Loper Bright case, as she previously sat on the D.C. Circuit.In combining the cases, the full Court will be able to consider the future of Chevron. The two cases will be argued in tandem in the January 2024 argument session. Please check back for updates.
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