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Prospect of SCOTUS Overturning the 1984 Chevron Decision


On Wednesday January 17th SCOTUS heard oral arguments in related cases Relentless v Department of Commerce and Looper Bright Enterprises v Raimondo, arising from similar decisions handed down by the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.  These cases strike at the heart of Federal agencies to interpret law, issue regulations and impose constraints on industry.  At issue is the decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service to require monitors on fishing boats to ensure compliance with catch sizes of herring and also for boat operators to pay for the service. 


The two cases considered by SCOTUS have the potential to reverse the 1984 Chevron USA Inc. v Natural Resources Defense Council decision that serves as the foundation of the powers exercised by administrative agencies.  The Court held that “Where a statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to a specific issue before an agency, courts may not substitute a construction of a statutory provision for a reasonable interpretation made by an agency.” Essentially courts are currently subservient to decisions made by agencies, based on the apparent superior knowledge and understanding of specific technical issues leading to bureaucratic overreach. 


Opponents of the Chevron decision consider that the framers of the Constitution vested the judiciary with the power to interpret law.  This position is held by the current conservative majority of SCOTUS. Opponents of the 1984 Chevron decision consider that it violates due process and removes from Federal courts their obligation to apply independent judgment.


The Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that Congress could delegate authority to agencies, given the restrictions imposed by the Administrative Procedure Act that guards against capricious and arbitrary decisions.  The Solicitor General pointed to decisions in favor of administrative agencies in more than seven cases that were decided on the basis of Chevron.  She noted, “Overruling a precedent as foundational as Chevron should require a truly extraordinary justification and petitioners do not have one.”


Should Chevon be overturned, Federal agencies would have significantly less power despite the claimed expertise required to interpret law that may not be within the province of Federal judges, especially with regard to emerging technology.


In recent years SCOTUS has deviated from precedent with respect to Roe v Wade in addition to established policies on admissions standards for universities. This suggests that Chevron may be viewed by SCOTUS as an outmoded principle in establishing judicial deference to administrators.  Overruling Chevron will severely limit the powers of Federal agencies consistent with a bias towards limiting bureaucratic regulation of society, industry and agriculture.  The area of environmental regulations that impinge on intensive livestock production will be the most important with respect to the poultry industry. Other areas in which regulations may be eased include road transport, regulation of waterways, health and safety requirements for workers and mergers and acquisitions. These restraints would all be challenged in a post-Chevron reality.