SCOTUS looks at Chevron—but what exactly does that mean?

Welcome to the Tuesday, January 30, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. SCOTUS hears oral argument in challenge to Chevron deference
  2. Voters in San Francisco will decide seven local measures on March 5 
  3. Two candidates running in the March 5 Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney in Texas

SCOTUS hears oral argument in challenge to Chevron deference

On Jan. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, consolidated cases that deal with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) interpretation of a federal fishery law. The court’s ruling, one of the most anticipated in 2024, could affect future applications of Chevron deference.  

Chevron deference is a doctrine that compels federal courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute. The doctrine originated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 ruling in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., one of the most cited cases of all time dealing with the administration and regulation of federal agencies. 

In Loper Bright, a coalition of commercial fishermen appealed an August 2022 ruling from a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that applied Chevron deference to uphold the NMFS’s interpretation of a federal fishery law requiring the fishermen to pay for 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.” In May 2023, the court agreed to hear Loper Bright and later consolidated the case with Relentless.

The court limited its review to the following question in both cases: “Whether the Court should overrule Chevron or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.”

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 court generally releases the majority of its decisions in mid-June.

Supporters of Chevron deference say it prioritizes agency expertise, while opponents say it prevents judges from exercising their constitutional duty to interpret the law independently.

Although the legal principles behind Chevron are complex, Ballotpedia serves as your one-stop shop for understanding the doctrine’s background and the debates over how federal courts have applied it. Click here to learn more. 

Chevron is one of several kinds of judicial deference the court has developed, including Skidmore deference and Auer deference. Judicial deference is one of five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about how agencies exercise the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules (a phenomenon referred to as the administrative state).

Ballotpedia provides neutral, nonpartisan encyclopedic coverage that defines and analyzes the administrative state, including its philosophical origins, legal and judicial precedents, and scholarly examinations of its consequences. The coverage area also monitors and reports on measures of federal government activity. Click here to learn more. 

Click here to read our coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023-2024 term. Click below to read more about Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce.
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Voters in San Francisco will decide seven local measures on March 5 

In a little over a month, voters in San Francisco, California, will decide seven ballot measures that address some of the city’s most discussed issues, including affordable housing and policing.   

San Francisco, the 17th-largest U.S. city, has some of the highest real estate and rental prices in the country, and measures on affordable housing have been a recurrent feature in recent elections. Debates over crime and policing have also taken center stage in recent years. In 2022, voters recalled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, with recall supporters saying Boudin’s approach to crime had led to increased crime rates. Boudin said his goal had been reforming the criminal justice system and that the recall was politically motivated. Click here to read our coverage of this recall election.

Here’s a look at two of those seven measures San Francisco voters will soon decide.  

Proposition A

This measure would authorize the city to issue $300 million in bonds to construct, develop, acquire, or rehabilitate affordable housing and authorize a property tax increase to repay the bonds. 

Mayor London Breed is among the measure’s supporters. Breed said Proposition A is, “a critical solution to our housing affordability crisis.”

Technology executive Larry Marso, who opposes the measure, said, “The Mayor and Board of Supervisors have embraced insane state mandates to build 82,000 new San Francisco homes over 5 years. Their plan changes the character of every neighborhood, bulldozes the West Side, and brings poverty, drugs, crime and homelessness to a street corner near you.”

Proposition B

Proposition B would set minimum police officer staffing levels and require the city to budget enough money for at least five years to pay the amount of police officers employed in the previous year. But only if voters approve new funding in the future to support the provisions in the charter amendment. 

The San Francisco Democratic Party supports Proposition B, while the San Francisco Republican Party opposes it. 

City Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who supports the measure, said, “The first step is simply, to be honest with the residents of this city — to prove to them that we are indeed capable of achieving a minimum police staffing goal while being fiscally responsible about making it happen.”

City Supervisor Matt Dorsey introduced the measure but voted against it after Safaí amended it to condition the staffing mandate on new funding. Dorsey said, “Proposition B is a confusing mess of political gamesmanship that actually prevents San Francisco voters from mandating a fully staffed police department — unless and until they pass ‘a future tax measure’ to ‘generate sufficient additional revenue’ to recruit and hire more officers.”

Ballotpedia covers all local measures in California, as well as those within state capitals and the 100 largest cities. Ballotpedia is also covering a selection of election-related measures, including electoral systems like ranked-choice voting, and policing-related ballot measures outside of the largest cities.

Click below to read about all seven measures on the March 5 ballot. 

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Two candidates running in the March 5 Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney in Texas

Throughout the year, we’ll bring you coverage of the most compelling primaries—the battleground elections we expect to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power in governments or to be particularly competitive. Yesterday, we previewed the March 5 Republican primary for governor of North Carolina. You can catch our previous coverage of other battleground races here.

Today, let’s check in on a local Democratic primary race in Harris County, Texas. Houston, the state’s largest city, is the county seat. 

Incumbent Kim Ogg (D), who was most recently re-elected in 2020 with 53.9% of the vote, is running in the primary. In December 2023, the Harris County Democratic Party voted 129-61 to admonish Ogg for “actions and positions that are contrary to the values and principles of the Democratic Party and the interests of the people of Harris County.” The resolution also said Ogg supported Republican firearms and sentencing laws, intimidating elected officials with whom she disagreed, and did not reduce the use of cash bail as she had promised.

Ogg says the county party admonished her because she is investigating three of County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s (D) former staffers.

According to Rice University professor Bob Stein, county Republicans see an opportunity to win back the district attorney’s office: “The cleavage, the fissure, the infighting in the Democratic Party to oust Kim Ogg, I think, has attracted some candidates to run countywide.” 

Here’s a bit about the candidates:

  • Ogg, who has worked as a prosecutor and attorney, was first elected in 2016 on a platform of prosecuting violent offenders, offering diversion programs as an alternative to jail time, and making less use of cash bail. Ogg is running on her record: “Our case backlog is down 21%, violent criminals are being prosecuted successfully, and we’re addressing critical issues like human trafficking and mental illness.” Ogg is the first Democrat to win election as Harris County District Attorney since 1980.
  • Teare, who has worked as a prosecutor and personal injury attorney, is running because he believes Ogg hasn’t fulfilled her campaign promises. Teare says prosecutors’ morale is low because Ogg has focused on building her political influence over implementing her policy platform: “The promises that we were all led to believe in 2016 were not being followed through.”

The winner will advance to the Nov. 5 general election against Dan Simons (R), who is the only Republican running. 

Harris County will also hold elections for a range of other offices. Click here for an overview of those elections.

Learn more about this race below.

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