The Significance of SCOTUS overruling Chevron

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On June 28, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Chevron doctrine. This ruling, which stems from the case Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, marks a significant shift in how courts interact with administrative agencies, emphasizing the judiciary’s role in interpreting laws and curbing the deference previously given to regulatory agencies.

Understanding the Chevron Doctrine

The Chevron doctrine originated from the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. It established a process where, if a statute was ambiguous, courts would defer to a government agency’s interpretation as long as its interpretation was reasonable.

This doctrine forced courts to rely on the expertise of federal agencies when interpreting ambiguous laws, meaning technical and complex regulatory matters were handled by government bureaucrats. However, it also meant that agencies wielded considerable power in interpreting statutes, with courts often taking a backseat unless the agency’s interpretation was deemed unreasonable.

Supreme Court’s Ruling

The case that brought about the end of the Chevron doctrine involved Loper Bright Enterprises challenging a regulation issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The regulation required fishing vessels to carry and pay for at-sea monitors, which Loper Bright argued was beyond the agency’s statutory authority. The court’s decision to overturn Chevron doctrine was based on several key points. 

Chief Justice Roberts argued that the Chevron doctrine is incompatible with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which mandates that courts must independently review and interpret statutes. It undermined the court in the following ways: 

  • Independent Judgment: The APA requires courts to exercise their independent judgment in interpreting statutes and reviewing agency actions. Chevron, however, demanded that courts defer to agencies, even when courts might have reached a different interpretation independently. 

“The deference that Chevron requires of courts reviewing agency action cannot be squared with the APA.”

  • Historical Context: Historically, courts have given respect to the expertise of executive agencies but have retained ultimate interpretive authority. Chevron, by insisting on binding deference, went beyond this tradition and undermined the role of the judiciary.
  • Judicial Precedent: Chevron’s requirement for courts to defer to agency interpretations, even when inconsistent, conflicted with the judiciary’s responsibility to provide stable and consistent interpretations of the law.

The court emphasized that delegating interpretive authority to agencies is unnecessary for ensuring well-informed resolution of unclear statutes.

Implications of the Ruling

The Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Chevron has some implications:

  • Judicial Authority: Courts will now exercise greater authority in interpreting statutes, reducing the influence of federal agencies in this process.
  • Agency Action: The decision will lead to more scrutiny of regulatory agency rules. This means that agencies will need to be cautious in implementing rules and have clear statutory support and intent for the regulations they impose.
  • Consistency: This ruling will help bring more consistency and stability to statutory interpretation by the judiciary, as courts will no longer have to defer to shifting agency interpretations.
  • Congressional Responsibility: This ruling will force Congress to pass less ambiguous laws because government agencies will no longer be able to create their own interpretations of unclear language in statutes.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo marks an important moment in administrative law. By overturning the Chevron doctrine, the Court has reaffirmed the judiciary’s role in interpreting statutes and limiting the interpretive powers of federal agencies. As the legal and regulatory authorities adjust to this new shift, the balance between judicial review and agency expertise will continue to evolve.

Afua Kwarteng is a graduate student at the University of Maine pursuing a dual MBA and Global Policy degree. She graduated from the University of Ghana with a BA in Political Science and Swahili. She is passionate about state and international policy and is serving as Maine Policy Institute’s 2024 communications intern.