Supreme Court Alters Major Administrative Law Principle: Here’s What it Means

A 40-year-old Legal Principle Overturned

In a ruling that has split America’s Supreme Court ideologically, a long-standing legal principle called Chevron deference was overthrown. This principle allows federal bodies, like government agencies, to interpret statutes that aren’t clearly defined. Especially when regulations come into play, it has been the backbone of government operations for over 40 years.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated this assumption is misguided because agencies have no unique skill at solving uncertainties in the law. He contends that courts are better equipped to handle this.

Courting a New Interpretation

Traditionally, the judiciary takes on the role of interpreting laws. They act like the referee when the rules aren’t entirely clear. But there might be some issues with this shift.

Government agencies deal with countless issues that often require specific expertise. They need to figure out details about various fields that courts may not fully understand. Courts might not know the nitty-gritty of each subject as well as the subject matter experts in agencies do.

Agencies or Courts: Who Should Decide?

So, who should really call the shots in these situations? Is it better to leave these choices to the courts or should subject matter experts and trained officials in government bodies take the lead?

Remember, Congress can’t do it all. They represent us and make laws. But they’re not experts on everything. Like deciding proper procedures for storing dangerous biohazards or understanding the requirements for human-drug trials. They rely on agencies to figure out these complex, often technical matters.

Understanding the Impact

To give a real-life example, let’s talk about polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals – sometimes called “forever chemicals”- are relatively new. They are found across the globe in human bloodstreams and can be very harmful. The EPA is working hard to restrict their usage and production. But who should decide things like this?

Should a bunch of medics and chemists decide, or should it be left for judges in federal court, who may take even longer than the experts to make a decision.

The Wider Consequences

Multiply this problem across every issue in every agency. You can begin to see the scale of the dilemma. Critics of Chevron principle felt companies would not mindlessly challenge every regulation enforced by experts. But now that it’s been overturned, we might see exactly that. The fallout could leave us with worse air quality, dangers in consumer products, weakened labor protections, and even worse health outcomes.

To summarize, the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling to override the Chevron deference marks a significant shift in administrative law. It essentially places more authority on the courts to determine how regulations should be enforced. How this plays out will be keenly watched – because, like it or not, it affects us all.

 

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