SCOTUS overrules Chevron – a gut punch to the administrative state?


Here’s the intro from this blog by Cooley’s Cydney Posner:

On Friday, SCOTUS issued its decision in two very important cases, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Dept of Commerceabout whether the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has the authority to require Atlantic herring fishing vessels to pay some of the costs for onboard federal observers who are required to monitor regulatory compliance.

To be sure, the transcendent significance of these cases has little to do with fishing and everything to do with the authority of administrative agencies to regulate: the question presented to SCOTUS was whether the Court should continue the decades-long deference of courts, under Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, to the reasonable interpretations of statutes by agencies. The doctrine of Chevron deference mandates that, if a statute does not directly address the “precise question at issue” or if there is ambiguity in how to interpret the statute, courts must accept an agency’s “permissible” (think, “reasonable”) interpretation of a law unless it is arbitrary or manifestly contrary to the statute. 

In a majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court rejected the doctrine: the “deference that Chevron requires of courts reviewing agency action cannot be squared with the [Administrative Procedure Act].” In case you scoff at the significance of the decision, consider the seminal nature of the doctrine as described in this 2006 article by Cass Sunstein: Chevron “has become foundational, even a quasi-constitutional text—the undisputed starting point for any assessment of the allocation of authority between federal courts and administrative agencies. Ironically, Justice Stevens, the author of Chevron, had no broad ambitions for the decision; the Court did not mean to do anything dramatic.

But shortly after it appeared, Chevron was quickly taken to establish a new approach to judicial review of agency interpretations of law, going so far as to create a kind of counter-Marbury for the administrative state.” Alluding to language from Marbury, Sunstein proclaimed that “Chevron seemed to declare that in the face of ambiguity, it is emphatically the province and duty of the administrative department to say what the law is.”  Not anymore. A six-justice majority of the Court has just overruled Chevron, with concurrences by each of Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch and a dissent by Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson (only on Relentless).

The implications of the decision are almost boundless—every current and future federal regulatory regime could be affected. As Kagan wrote in her dissent, this decision “puts courts at the apex of the administrative process as to every conceivable subject—because there are always gaps and ambiguities in regulatory statutes, and often of great import. What actions can be taken to address climate change or other environmental challenges? What will the Nation’s health-care system look like in the coming decades? Or the financial or transportation systems? What rules are going to constrain the development of A.I.?  In every sphere of current or future federal regulation, expect courts from now on to play a commanding role.”