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Supreme Court Strikes Blow To Administrative State, Overturns Chevron Doctrine

The high court’s decision marks a major victory for conservatives seeking to dismantle the unchecked power of unelected bureaucrats.


The Supreme Court curbed the unmitigated power of federal agencies with a new landmark ruling delivered Friday.

In a 6-3 decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the high court overturned a 40-year precedent that gave federal agencies broad authority to implement regulations under ambiguous language unless Congress had explicitly prohibited such rules. Chief Justice John Roberts, however, writing the majority opinion to overturn the 1984 precedent in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, stated that “Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

The 1984 Chevron doctrine established the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to enforce the Clean Air Act, allowing federal bureaucrats to read their own interpretations into what Congress authorized agencies to do. Justice Roberts wrote that the precedent gave bureaucratic agencies too much power and argued for the judiciary to step in, noting that the “Administrative Procedures Act requires courts to exercise independent judgment.”

“Courts, after all, routinely confront statutory ambiguities in cases having nothing to do with Chevron — cases that do not involve agency interpretations or delegations of authority,” Roberts wrote. “Of course, when faced with a statutory ambiguity in such a case, the ambiguity is not a delegation to anybody, and a court is not somehow relieved of its obligation to independently interpret the statute.”

“Courts in that situation do not throw up their hands because ‘Congress’s instructions have’ supposedly ‘run out,’ leaving a statutory ‘gap,’” the chief justice added. “Courts instead understand that such statutes, no matter how impenetrable, do — in fact, must — have a single, best meaning. That is the whole point of having written statutes; ‘every statute’s meaning is fixed at the time of enactment.’”

The high court’s decision marks a major victory for the conservative legal movement, which has spent four decades seeking to dismantle the unchecked power awarded to unelected bureaucrats. The court delivered a precursor to the Chevron doctrine’s demise two years ago in West Virginia v. EPA, with the majority opinion also authored by Chief Justice Roberts in a 6-3 ruling. In that case, the Supreme Court curbed the EPA’s authority to unilaterally cap carbon emissions.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” Roberts wrote. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme. … A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent in Friday’s decision, voting with the court’s two other left-wing justices in the minority.

“This Court has long understood Chevron deference to reflect what Congress would want, and so to be rooted in a presumption of legislative intent,” Kagan wrote. “Congress knows that it does not — in fact cannot — write perfectly complete regulatory statutes.”

Justice Kagan argued the agencies are the best avenue to fill the gaps in legislative ambiguity, writing that “agencies have expertise in those areas; courts do not.”

“Agencies report to a President, who in turn answers to the public for his policy calls; courts have no such accountability and no proper basis for making policy,” she wrote. “And of course Congress has conferred on that expert, experienced, and politically accountable agency the authority to administer — to make rules about and otherwise implement — the statute giving rise to the ambiguity or gap.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, however, argued that the job of determining the scope of bureaucrats’ authority under a statute constitutionally rests with the courts, not the bureaucrats themselves, calling the precedent in Chevron a “revolution masquerading as the status quo.”

“All today’s decision means is that, going forward, federal courts will do exactly as this Court has since 2016, exactly as it did before the mid-1980s, and exactly as it had done since the founding: resolve cases and controversies without any systemic bias in the government’s favor,” Gorsuch wrote.

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