The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a series of cases that could pave the way for its conservative supermajority to undermine the way American society imposes rules on businesses, advancing a key goal of the conservative legal movement.

Such a ruling would make it easier to challenge regulations on a range of issues, such as keeping air and water clean; ensure that food, medicine, cars and consumer products are safe; and much more.

The court is expected to issue its ruling at the end of its term, probably in June. But it’s still unclear how radical any ruling (and its consequences) would be. Here’s a closer look:

The plaintiffs in the case ask the Supreme Court to overturn an important 1984 precedent, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The decision establishes a framework that federal judges (especially at the district and appellate levels) have used for decades to resolve countless legal challenges to the regulations.

People who don’t like particular rules can file lawsuits arguing that an agency exceeded the limits of the authority given to it by Congress. Under the precedent established in Chevron, if part of the law that Congress wrote to empower a regulatory agency is ambiguous but the agency’s interpretation is reasonable, judges must defer to the agency.

In cases filed Wednesday, commercial fishing vessel owners are challenging a regulation issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Requires commercial fishermen to pay the cost of monitors that prevent overfishing. An appeals court upheld the rule based on Chevron’s methodology, and the plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to reverse that and overturn Chevron.

Although the question of who pays for fishery monitors primarily affects only a handful of commercial fishermen, the principle the case establishes could profoundly influence how the government imposes rules on a variety of businesses.

Chevron’s critics argue that this approach gives too much power to executive branch agencies and that courts are abdicating their authority to interpret the law. Proponents argue that without such a filter, courts will micromanage any number of overly technical issues that judges do not have the experience to resolve.

“If Chevron goes away,” said Jody Freeman, a Harvard University law professor who specializes in administrative and environmental law, it could become “a pitched battle for judges to dig into the nitty-gritty of everything the agencies do.” and “an invitation for interest group lawyers to try to legally entangle the agencies.”

Notably, lawyers representing commercial fishing plaintiffs in Wednesday’s case are backed by petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch. He and his brother, David Koch, who died in 2019, have funded libertarian-minded conservative causes for decades.

It is widely believed that the Supreme Court’s controlling conservative bloc took up the case with the intention of limiting Chevron. But it is unclear how far the court would go, what the consequences would be or what regulations could be altered, as there are several paths the justices could take.

At the modest end of the spectrum, the court could simply limit Chevron’s reach. You might say that an agency is not free to interpret ambiguous statutes unless Congress has indicated that it specifically gave it that discretion; for example, if a statute says the agency must propose a “reasonable” approach to accomplishing its mission.

On the aggressive end of the spectrum, the court could strike down Chevron entirely and prohibit judges from deferring to an agency’s interpretation of its statute under any circumstances.

Repealing the Chevron doctrine could jeopardize dozens of existing environmental regulations on air, water and chemical pollution, and could profoundly weaken the federal government’s authority to impose new regulations to limit climate change and ban the use of asbestos and other toxins, he said. experts in environmental law.

That would be a big victory for fossil fuel industry groups and others that have strategically sought to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution under laws that direct the agency, when writing new rules, to require industries to use the “best available technologies”. “To reduce pollution.

The EPA is drafting a pair of major climate change rules for cars and power plants that are expected to be released this spring. Because the federal agency, rather than the law, specifies the technologies to be used, “these rules will now certainly be the subject of lawsuits that could be strengthened by Chevron’s overturning,” said Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center. for Climate Change Law from Columbia University.

Still, he said: “Nothing would be automatically overturned. But it is a very big new arrow in the quiver of lawyers who try to oppose environmental regulation.”

Looming over Wednesday’s arguments was what a ruling halting or even overturning Chevron would mean for past cases that were decided using the doctrine.

While the Supreme Court has rarely invoked Chevron, lower courts have relied on Chevron’s methodology thousands of times to uphold regulations by ruling that agencies’ opinions on ambiguous statutes were reasonable.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Román Martínez, told the justices on Wednesday that he did not think overturning Chevron was particularly disruptive given the judicial principle of not reopening already resolved legal issues. But Attorney General Elizabeth B. Prelogar warned the judges that “endless litigation” would ensue.

“Litigants will come out of the woodwork seeking to open up those decisions and arguing that they didn’t actually address what they now say is the relevant issue,” he predicted.

The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority has been undermining the authority of the administrative state, which took shape as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It is the main way that modern American society imposes rules on businesses: Congress creates agencies staffed with technical experts to study various types of problems and empowers them to issue legally binding regulations.

These regulations are intended to broadly help society, but they can reduce the profits of individual business owners.

Following the environmental and consumer safety movements of the 1960s, a backlash emerged from business, where critics argued that government officials who were not accountable to voters were issuing regulations whose costs outweighed their benefits. . (Elected lawmakers who control agency budgets have a procedure for repealing specific regulations, and agencies are run by presidential appointees.)

Rolling back the regulatory state became a central ideological goal of the ensuing conservative legal movement. And since President Donald J. Trump cemented a conservative supermajority by appointing judges who emerged from that movement, he has been taking steps to do so.

In June 2020, for example, The five Republicans then appointed to the court struck down a law in which Congress had tried to protect the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from being fired by a president without good cause, such as misconduct. Since Trump’s third appointee joined the court, most have gone further.

In particular, in June 2022The court expanded and solidified what conservatives call the “major issues doctrine,” under which judges can strike down regulations that have a significant impact if they believe Congress was not explicit enough in authorizing agencies to take such actions. Actions.

In that context, overthrowing or dismantling Chevron will most likely be his next step.

Coral Davenport contributed with reports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *