Last week, The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimando, a case challenging the long standing Supreme Court doctrine of Chevron deference.
The specifics of this particular case aren’t entirely important, but what is important is the question for which the court has granted cert, which reads: “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.”
Chevron deference, in short, refers to the tendency of courts deferring to an agency’s interpretation of the law when there is statutory ambiguity. An agency’s interpretation is generally granted so long as Congress has not directly spoken to the issue at hand, and so long as the agency’s interpretation is “reasonable.”
So what does that mean? Essentially, whatever the agency wants. Congress certainly has the power to delegate to administrative agencies, but Chevron deference entirely robs the legislative of their responsibility to legislate.
Chevron instigated a massive shift in power from the legislative to the executive. That’s not to say that we didn’t have an overreaching administrative state before the 1984 ruling, but Chevron has limited the courts’ ability to force Congress to legislate. When executive agencies can make new law through statutory interpretation at will, Congress has no duty to go through the hard process of reaching a compromise to bring legislation to the desk of the President.
Some may argue that deferring to executive agencies for law making purposes is necessary to avoid congressional gridlock, but that couldn’t be further from reality. Congress is meant to go through the hard negotiating process to produce legislation that has been sufficiently vetted by the rigors of debate. Instead, as it is, executive agencies aligned with the politics of the President can simply bail Congress out by interpreting existing statutes to address whatever the issue at hand is.
We saw the issue with this process on full display in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, with the ATF’s decision to ban bump stocks by reinterpreting a statute from 1934 to encompass the devices. At the time, Congress was already in the process of producing legislation to prohibit the modification, and seemingly had the votes to do so. Instead, the ATF stepped in, and Congress no longer needed to act. The result was a flimsy foundation for the ban, which is now in serious danger of being overturned by the courts.
Conservative legal scholars, and certain Supreme Court Justices, have long expressed disdain for Chevron, and this case is the first real crack the current court composition has had at curtailing the doctrine or doing away with it entirely.
Ending Chevron isn’t the end-all-be-all for our massively bloated administrative state, but it’s a welcome beginning to restoring elected members of Congress as the lawmakers in our country once again. I say let it burn, and hope to see SCOTUS take that same approach.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.