SCOTUS hears oral argument in challenge to Chevron deference

The United States Supreme Court on January 17, 2024, heard oral argument in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce—two consolidated cases challenging an agency’s interpretation of a federal fishery law that could affect future applications of Chevron deference by the federal courts. 

A coalition of commercial fishermen in Loper Bright appealed an August 2022 ruling from a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The ruling applied Chevron deference to uphold the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) interpretation of a federal fishery law—the Magnuson-Stevens Act—allowing the use of compliance monitors on certain fishing boats. While the federal law does not specify who is responsible for funding the use of such monitors, the judges deferred to the NMFS’ interpretation of the statute requiring fishermen to pay costs for the use of compliance monitors. 

The fishermen appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the D.C. Circuit’s decision “perceives ambiguity in statutory silence, where the logical explanation for the statutory silence is that Congress did not intend to grant the agency such a dangerous and uncabined authority.” The court in May 2023 agreed to hear Loper Bright and later consolidated the case with Relentless.

SCOTUSblog analyst Amy Howe wrote that the court was divided at oral argument, but a majority seemed prepared to overturn or limit Chevron deference. Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the doctrine “ushers in shocks to the system every four or eight years when a new administration comes in, whether it’s communications law or securities law or competition law or environmental law.” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, however, contended that Chevron is important because it does “the very important work of helping courts stay away from policymaking.” The justices also, according to Howe, “debated what the impact of a decision overruling Chevron would be.”

The case is expected to be decided in 2024. 

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