Supreme Court Overrules Chevron Doctrine, Imperiling an Array of Federal Rules


The Supreme Court on Friday reduced the authority of executive agencies, sweeping aside a longstanding legal precedent that required courts to defer to the expertise of federal administrators in carrying out laws passed by Congress.

The precedent, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, is one of the most cited in American law. There have been 70 Supreme Court decisions relying on Chevron, along with 17,000 in the lower courts.

The decision threatens regulations in countless areas, including the environment, health care and consumer safety.

The vote was 6 to 3, dividing along ideological lines.

The conservative legal movement and business groups have long objected to the Chevron ruling, partly based on a general hostility to government regulation and partly based on the belief, grounded in the separation of powers, that agencies should have only the power that Congress has explicitly given them.

Supporters of the doctrine say it allows specialized agencies to fill gaps in ambiguous statutes to establish uniform rules in their areas of expertise, a practice they say was contemplated by Congress.

Its opponents counter that it is the role of courts, not executive branch officials, to determine the meanings of statutes. They also say agencies’ interpretations can change with new administrations and put a thumb on the scale in favor of the government in lawsuits even when it is a party to the case.

The court decided two almost identical cases, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, No. 22-451, and Relentless v. Department of Commerce, No. 22-1219. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused from the first case because she had participated in it as a federal appeals court judge.

Both cases involved a 1976 federal law that requires herring boats to carry federal observers to collect data used to prevent overfishing. Under a 2020 regulation interpreting the law, owners of the boats were required not only to transport the observers but also to pay $700 a day for their oversight.

Fishermen in New Jersey and Rhode Island sued, saying the 1976 law did not authorize the relevant agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, to impose the fee.

The two appeals courts — one in Washington, the other in Boston — ruled that the deference called for by the Chevron decision required a ruling for the government. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in Washington, ruled that the agency’s interpretation of the 1976 law “to allow industry-funded monitoring was reasonable.” The First Circuit, in Boston, said that “at the very least” the agency’s interpretation of the 1976 law was “certainly reasonable.”

The fishermen were represented by Cause of Action Institute, which says its mission is “to limit the power of the administrative state,” and the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which says it aims “to protect constitutional freedoms from violations from the administrative state.” Both groups have financial ties to the network of foundations and advocacy organizations funded by Charles Koch, a billionaire who has long supported conservative and libertarian causes.

Forty years ago, when Chevron was decided by a unanimous but short-handed six-member Supreme Court, with three justices recused, it was generally viewed as a victory for conservatives. In response to a challenge from environmental groups, the justices sustained a Reagan-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that loosened regulation of emissions, saying the Environmental Protection Agency’s reading of the statute was “a reasonable construction” that was “entitled to deference.”



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