Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 29, 2024

Supreme Court Restricts Agency Power in Landmark Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court struck a monumental blow to what many refer to as the administrative state on Friday by issuing a 6-3 ruling that limits its capability to interpret laws and dismantles the Chevron deference doctrine, which had empowered federal administrative agencies for 40 years.

This decision is anticipated to strengthen judicial power, potentially complicating the enforcement and promulgation of a variety of regulatory policies, as Axios reports.

Supreme Court Ends Chevron Doctrine

In a move that concludes the so-called Chevron deference era, the Supreme Court's ruling marks a significant shift in how federal law is interpreted and enforced.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, asserted that the Chevron doctrine contradicts the Administrative Procedure Act. According to Roberts, courts should not defer to agencies' interpretations but, instead, exercise independent judicial judgment.

Chevron deference originated from the 1984 case Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. It allowed courts to defer to federal agencies' interpretations of ambiguous laws, provided those interpretations were reasonable. However, Friday's ruling signifies the end of this judicial standard.

Impact On Federal Regulatory Policies

The consequences of this decision are expected to be far-reaching. Regulatory policies, such as those under the Clean Air Act, which previously relied on Chevron deference, remain valid under statutory stare decisis. However, new challenges against federal rules in courts are likely, with judges now wielding more discretion to invalidate agency decisions.

This ruling comes on the heels of another court decision just one day earlier, which limited federal agencies' use of administrative law judges. These consecutive decisions underscore a trend towards reducing the power and autonomy of federal agencies.

Justice Kagan's Dissent

Justice Elena Kagan, in a forceful dissent, expressed deep concerns about the majority's ruling. She viewed it as a direct assault on agency authority, contrary to congressional intention. Kagan argued that Congress crafts regulatory statutes with the understanding that they will contain ambiguities, which agencies, not courts, are better equipped to resolve.

Kagan warned that the ruling is likely to cause significant disruption. She forecasted that it transfers exclusive power over numerous issues, particularly those requiring expert judgment, from agencies to the courts. In her words, the decision epitomizes the Court's tendency to undermine agency discretion and substitute judicial judgment for specialized expertise.

Challenges And Support for Ruling

The impetus for dismantling Chevron deference arose from cases involving National Marine Fisheries Service regulations. Challengers argued that Chevron violated constitutional principles, specifically Articles I and III.

The government defended Chevron deference, emphasizing its role in curbing judicial policymaking and maintaining checks on judicial power. However, with this new ruling, the era of courts deferring to agencies on ambiguous statutes has come to a close, much to the delight of conservative groups.

Implications For Future Litigation

This ruling is expected to empower federal judges to take more assertive stances in overturning agency decisions. Historical decisions, like those made by Texas District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who paused the FDA's approval of the abortion pill mifepristone, may become more commonplace.

The end of Chevron deference signifies a monumental shift in the judicial landscape, reshaping the balance of power between the judiciary and federal agencies. Experts anticipate that the ruling will prompt a surge in legal challenges against agency regulations.

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About Ashton Snyder

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