Supreme Court considers scaling back power of federal government

 January 19, 2024

Conservative justices of the Supreme Court indicated a leaning towards restricting the regulatory power of federal agencies during two arguments on Wednesday.

The focus was on overruling the Chevron deference, a legal doctrine that has supported agencies' authority for decades.

The details

The doctrine instructs courts to defer to agencies' interpretation of federal law when it could have multiple meanings.

The Biden administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, defended Chevron's deference during the arguments, emphasizing its importance in administrative law.

Several conservative justices, including Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, expressed concerns about the precedent, questioning its viability.

Future uncertain

While some conservative justices criticized Chevron during the arguments, it remains uncertain whether a majority is willing to fully overrule it.

The court might choose to narrow the doctrine's scope without entirely disavowing it.

The potential impact of such a decision on various areas, including artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and environmental protections, was discussed during the arguments.

Leftist judges oppose

The court's liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, expressed opposition to overturning Chevron. They emphasized the importance of deferring to agency experts in dealing with ambiguous and complex policy issues.

Concerns were raised about potential consequences, including a flood of litigation if Chevron were to be overturned. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who posed questions to both sides, also raised concerns about potential shocks to the system.

The lawyers advocating for overturning Chevron argued against potential negative consequences, asserting that past decisions invoking the doctrine would still be considered precedent. Some conservative justices argued that Chevron itself has created shocks by giving the executive branch broad discretion to change interpretations of statutes based on policy goals.

Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether Chevron had already been overruled in practice, noting that the Supreme Court has not invoked it since 2016, and some recent cases have either carved out exceptions or ignored the precedent. The court considered replacing Chevron with the Skidmore test, a narrower approach where judges decide to defer to an agency only if its argument is persuasive.

The cases in question involved challenges from herring fishermen against a rule mandating funding for federal monitors on their vessels in a case critical to the fishing industry. The court is expected to deliver decisions in the cases by the end of June.

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