Court Battles

Supreme Court to consider overruling Chevron doctrine

The Supreme Court on Monday announced it will hear a case that could significantly scale back federal agencies’ authority, with major implications for the future of environmental and other regulations.

The justices next term will consider whether to overturn a decades-old precedent that grants agencies deference when Congress left ambiguity in a statute.

Named for the court’s decision in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Chevron deference has become one of the most frequently cited precedents in administrative law since the decision was first handed down in 1984.

It involves a two-step test: First, judges decide if Congress has in the statute directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If it is ambiguous, courts defer to agencies as long as their actions are based on a “permissible construction.”

Some of the high court’s conservatives have raised concern about the precedent and how it has expanded the reach of agencies’ authority.

Now, the justices will take up a case that explicitly asks them to overturn it. The high court announced the move on Monday in a brief, unsigned order — as is typical — indicating at least four justices agreed to take up the case.

Herring fishing company Loper Bright Enterprises is appealing a ruling that left in place a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regulation based on the doctrine.

The regulation requires herring fishing boats to allow a federal observer aboard to oversee operations and compensate them for their time. The company argues the regulation significantly decreases their profit margin, and the agency had no authorization to impose it.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the federal government, deferring to NMFS after finding that the law at issue was ambiguous.

“Nearly four decades of judicial experience with Chevron have demonstrated that courts are incapable of applying its two-step Chevron framework in a consistent manner,” attorneys for Loper Bright Enterprises wrote in court filings.

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