BREAKING: Supreme Court overturns Chevron ruling, blocks federal agencies' power to interpret 'ambiguous' statutes

Roberts stated that the Chevron ruling "defies the command of the APA that 'the reviewing court'—not the agency whose action it reviews—is to 'decide all relevant questions of the law' and 'interpret statutory provisions.'"

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The Supreme Court handed down a ruling on Friday in two cases related to the 1984 Chevron ruling from the court, overturning it in a 6-3 ruling. The Chevron ruling had stated that courts should defer to an agency's interpretation of statutes that may be ambiguous. Notably, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused from the Loper Bright Enterprises case. 

Delivering the opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "Chevron is overruled. Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority, as the APA [Administrative Procedure Act] requires. Careful attention to the judgment of the Executive Branch may help inform that inquiry." 

Roberts stated that the Chevron ruling "defies the command of the APA that 'the reviewing court'—not the agency whose action it reviews—is to 'decide all relevant questions of the law' and 'interpret statutory provisions.'" 

"And when a particular statute delegates authority to an agency consistent with constitutional limits, courts must respect the delegation, while ensuring that the agency acts within it. But courts need not and under the APA may not defer to an agency interpretation of the law simply because a statute is ambiguous." 

Roberts noted that the court does "not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron framework. The holdings of those cases that specific agency actions are lawful—including the Clean Air Act holding of Chevron itself—are still subject to statutory stare decisis despite our change in interpretive methodology." 

Two cases, Relentless v. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v Raimondo, challenged the 40-year-old ruling in the case of Chevron USA v Natural Resources Defense Council. The Chevron ruling stated that courts should "defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute," according to SCOTUSblog

The two cases were filed in response to a rule issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service requiring the herring industry to pay the costs of observers on fishing boats. The two cases were argued before the Supreme Court in January. 

Roman Martinez, who represented one group of fishing vessels, argued before the justices that the Chevron doctrine undermines the duties of the courts to determine what the law is. He also argued that the doctrine violates federal law that governs administrative agencies. 

He argued that even if the Supreme Court agreed that the fishing vessels’ interpretation of federal fishing law was better than the National Marine Fisheries Service, the justices would still be required to defer to the agency under Chevron, which Martinez concluded was "not consistent with the rule of law." 

Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the second group of fishing companies, echoed Martinez’s argument, saying that his clients’ case "well illustrates the real-world costs of the Chevron" ruling for small businesses. He called the Chevron ruling "hopeless ambiguous" and "reliance destroying." 

While Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown-Jackson appeared to lean toward keeping Chevron in place, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that Chevron "ushers in shocks to the system every four or eight years when a new administration comes in." Justice Neil Gorsuch said he wasn’t worried about large companies, but rather the "little guy," as Chevron tends to work for agencies and against smaller companies. 

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