The U.S. Supreme Court on May 1, 2023, agreed to hear Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo—a case that could curb or clarify future applications of Chevron deference by the federal courts.
Chevron deference is an administrative law principle that compels federal courts to defer to a federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute that Congress delegated to the agency to administer. In other words, when Congress passes a law that is unclear or silent on an issue, the agency administering the law may interpret the statute and issue rules to fill in the details. If a court deems the agency’s interpretation reasonable, it will exercise Chevron deference to accept the agency’s position rather than replace the agency’s view with its own.
While supporters of Chevron deference broadly argue that the doctrine leverages agency expertise, opponents contend that it prevents judges from exercising their constitutional duty to independently interpret the law.
Inconsistent applications of Chevron deference, including by the U.S. Supreme Court, have led scholars and judicial commentators to raise questions about the doctrine’s longevity and anticipate rulings limiting its scope. For example, some analysts suggested the 2021 case American Hospital Association v. Becerra would provide the U.S. Supreme Court with an opportunity to limit Chevron deference. But while the question reviewed by the court centered on Chevron deference, Justice Brett Kavanaugh made no mention of the doctrine in the majority opinion, leading SCOTUSblog analyst James Romoser to question whether “the doctrine may be shunned into oblivion” rather than explicitly overturned.
Similar questions about potential limits to Chevron deference surround Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo in light of the court’s grant of review. The case concerns a group of commercial fishermen challenging a court ruling that applied Chevron deference to uphold an agency interpretation of a federal fishery law requiring the fishermen to foot the bill for compliance monitors. The U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the petitioner’s question asking whether the court should overturn Chevron deference or, at a minimum, clarify when certain instances of statutory silence constitute the type of ambiguity that would compel deference. Stay tuned!