Supreme Court overturns Chevron deference

The U.S. Supreme Court decided 6-3 to overturn Chevron doctrine on June 28, holding that federal courts may not defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute. In two consolidated cases—Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce—the court ruled that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires courts to rely on their own interpretations of ambiguous statutes instead of deferring to agencies. 

The Chevron doctrine originated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984), which required courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute that Congress delegated to the agency to enforce. The precedent established the legal structure through which courts reviewed, approved, and rejected regulations in the context of statutory intent. Opponents of Chevron deference argued that it violated the separation of powers and gave the executive branch too much authority. Supporters argued the doctrine allowed administrative agencies to operate more efficiently.

The June 28 decision overturned Chevron doctrine, with Chief Justice John Roberts arguing in the majority opinion that the principle violated the APA. Roberts wrote, “Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority, as the APA requires. … But courts need not and under the APA may not defer to an agency interpretation of the law simply because a statute is ambiguous.”

Justice Elena Kagan argued in a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, that deference should be given to agency expertise to clarify ambiguities in statutes: “Congress knows that it does not—in fact cannot—write perfectly complete regulatory statutes. It knows that those statutes will inevitably contain ambiguities that some other actor will have to resolve, and gaps that some other actor will have to fill. And it would usually prefer that actor to be the responsible agency, not a court.”

Loper Bright and Relentless were consolidated cases challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) interpretation of a federal fishery law requiring the presence of federal compliance observers on certain fishing boats. While the federal law was silent on who would pay for such oversight, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the First Circuit deferred to the NMFS’ interpretation of the statute requiring the boat owners to pay the compliance costs. The boat owners—the plaintiffs in the cases—appealed the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in May 2023 to hear the consolidated cases. 

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