Home Supreme Court Chevron decision is ‘major blow against’ federal government
State/National

Supreme Court Chevron decision is ‘major blow against’ federal government

climate change
(© Nicola – stock.adobe.com)

Forty years ago, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that judges should defer to the executive branch when congressional laws are ambiguous.

Known as the Chevron ruling, the decision became a bedrock of modern administrative law, as reported by the Associated Press.

But current members of the Supreme Court, including Neil Gorsuch, whose mother, Anne Gorsuch, was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency when the ruling was made in 1984, are a conservative majority skeptical of federal power in the United States.

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the 1984 decision and leave executive branch agencies challenged with regulating environment, workplace safety, public health and other issues.

Defended by the Biden administration, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the June 28 ruling does not negate prior cases that relied on the Chevron ruling. The Biden administration warned that Friday’s ruling would destabilize and possible bring a “convulsive shock” to America’s legal system.

“The net effect will be to weaken our government’s ability to meet the real problems the world is throwing at us — big things like COVID and climate change,″ said David Doniger, a longtime Natural Resources Defense Council official and lawyer who argued the original Chevron case in 1984. He said he fears overturning the 1984 doctrine could “free judges to be radical activists” who could “effectively rewrite our laws and block the protections they are supposed to provide.”

Groups that represent the gun industry, tobacco, agriculture, timber and homebuilding pressed the Supreme Court to overturn Chevron in order to save billions of dollars. In 2023, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief on behalf of business groups. The brief stated that modern application of the Chevron doctrine “fostered aggrandizement’’ of the executive branch.

Although the Chevron doctrine was originally contested in 2022 by Atlantic herring fishermen, the situation is no longer about fish.

Meredith Moore, a member of environmental group Ocean Conservancy, told the AP the case “was never just about fish,” but an opportunity for businesses and interest groups to use the fishermen “to attack the foundations of the public agencies that serve the American public and conserve our natural resources.”

The June 28 ruling may have created opportunities for litigation that will erode protections for Americans and the environment, according to Moore.

“For more than 30 years, fishery observers have successfully helped ensure that our oceans are responsibly managed so that fishing can continue in the future,’’ Dustin Cranor of Oceana, another conservation group, said. He called the case “just the latest example of the far right trying to undermine the federal government’s ability to protect our oceans, waters, public lands, clean air and health.’’

In 2022, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey brought a case to limit the EPA’s ability to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He said the June 28 ruling is a fitting follow-up to his 2022 case, in which the Supreme Court decided that Congress must specify when an agency has authority to regulate an issue on a national level.

Morrisey is now the GOP nominee for governor of West Virginia and called Chevron “a misguided doctrine under which courts defer to legally dubious interpretations of statutes put out by federal administrative agencies.”

According to Temple University’s Beasley School of Law professor Craig Green, conservatives once celebrated the Chevron doctrine, including the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Conservatives believed in this rule until they didn’t,’’ Green told the AP. Conservatives have become focused in recent years on “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

“If you weaken the federal government, you get less government,’’ Green said.

Leaders of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), including Co-Chairs Reps. Doris Matsui, Mike Quigley, and Paul Tonko, Vice Chairs Reps. Don Beyer, Matt Cartwright, Sean Casten, Chellie Pingree, and Katie Porter, and Chair Emeritus Rep. Gerry Connolly, called the June 28 ruling in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce “a major blow against a properly functioning federal government. This is the culmination of the extreme right wing’s quest to fully undermine the U.S. government’s ability to perform its duties.”

SEEC leaders said the ruling should be called what it is: “a blatant power grab. The Court’s radical conservative majority has decided that they know better how to solve our nation’s most pressing problems, regardless of whether they have any background or expertise in the topic at hand. As Justice Kagan dissented, ‘In one fell swoop, the majority today gives itself exclusive power over every open issue — no matter how expertise-driven or policy-laden — involving the meaning of regulatory law.’ They apparently think they know better than our government’s leading scientists, economists, engineers and policy experts.”

Open season began June 28, according the SEEC, on any regulation disliked by a federal judge and the Supreme Court’s decision has robbed the nation’s experts of tools needed to craft rules and policies to rein in bad actors, but “also exposed our federal agencies to rising ideologically motivated challenges and attacks. This decision will affect every single one of our federal agencies working to protect the rights and well-being of the American people.”

“We must return to the days of a Court that stood on the side of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised rather than on the side of polluters and corporate bad actors.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.