Left-leaning group tried and failed to force Justice Gorsuch to recuse himself from Chevron doctrine-related cases

 January 19, 2024

With increasing desperation, the Democrats and leftist activists who routinely attack the credibility and ethics of the conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices are now seeking to use recusal as a weapon against those same jurists to sideline them on important cases.

The latest example was an unsuccessful attempt by a progressive organization to force Justice Neil Gorsuch to recuse himself from a major case that could have a significant impact going forward on how courts rule in cases involving government regulations, according to The Guardian.

At issue here is what is known as the Chevron deference doctrine, in which courts generally defer to the "reasonable" interpretations of ambiguous and vaguely written laws by federal agencies, and how a billionaire businessman friend of Gorsuch might benefit from the overturning of that decades-old doctrine.

Gorsuch has a billionaire businessman friend ... oh no!

A supposedly non-partisan but overtly left-leaning organization known as Accountable.US issued a press release on Tuesday that demanded Justice Gorsuch recuse himself from two cases set to be heard at the Supreme Court on Wednesday that directly involve the Chevron deference doctrine.

That group raised concerns that a billionaire businessman named Philip Anschutz, who has been personal friends with Gorsuch for decades, would benefit financially if the high court were to discard or impose strict limits on the Chevron precedent that was set in 1984 in a case that involved the energy company's challenge against Environmental Protection Agency pollution regulations.

"Not only would overturning Chevron deference strip power from federal agencies, harming their ability to serve everyday Americans -- but now, we know billionaire oil baron Philip Anschutz would score big from a favorable ruling by his friend on the high court," Caroline Ciccone, the group's president, said in a statement.

"This is just the latest in a long pattern of cozy relationships between Supreme Court justices and billionaires creating conflicts that undermine the legitimacy of the court," she continued.

"It’s far past time for these justices to stop putting their billionaire pals over Americans," Ciccone added. "Recusal from cases where they have glaring conflicts of interest is the very least they can do to restore some semblance of credibility and integrity to our Supreme Court."

Gorsuch participated in cases as usual

Unfortunately for Accountable.US, Justice Gorsuch ignored their demand that he recuse himself, as a SCOTUSblog analysis of Wednesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court revealed that the conservative/libertarian-leaning jurist took part in the proceedings like normal.

The court actually heard arguments in two consolidated cases -- Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce -- that involved fishing vessels challenging a statute interpretation by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service that require those vessels to cover the costs of government-mandated observers who monitor the vessels' adherence to various offshore fishing regulations.

At the heart of the conflict is the Chevron deference doctrine, which both the lower district and appeals courts relied on to rule against the fishing companies and uphold the NMFS's requirement that they pay the salaries of the government observers deployed on their vessels.

Failed gambit aimed to prevent Gorsuch from ruling on Chevron doctrine

It does not appear that Anschutz is directly involved in either of those cases before the Supreme Court, which makes the demand that Justice Gorsuch recuse himself from the cases over his friendship with the billionaire businessman seem both unusual and unnecessary.

However, everything becomes clear once one realizes that the connection to Anschutz is nothing more than a useful pretense to try to stop Gorsuch, who has made his antipathy toward the Chevron doctrine of deference to regulatory agencies abundantly clear over the years, from having an impact on possibly overturning the pro-regulatory precedent that Democrats and progressives love.

The ploy did not work, however, and the SCOTUSblog analysis concluded that the odds appear favorable that the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in these two cases to either discard or substantially constrain future reliance on the Chevron doctrine by lower courts.

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