BBK Firm Attorneys at Law logoOn June 28, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling in Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. v. Raimondo overturning the longstanding administrative law doctrine known as Chevron deference. Chevron deference, which stemmed from a 1984 Supreme Court ruling in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, directed courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of a statute that is ambiguous or silent on an issue. This ruling will significantly reshape the federal regulatory landscape.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts overruled Chevron, stating that “the Administrative Procedure Act requires courts to exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority, and courts may not defer to an agency interpretation of the law simply because a statute is ambiguous.”

The majority opinion was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Justice Thomas and Gorsuch also filed concurring opinions.

Meanwhile, Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Sotomayor and Jackson. Justice Kagan wrote that “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.”

Justice Jackson partially joined the dissent as she recused herself from Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo due to her previous participation in the case as a federal appeals judge.

Supporters of Chevron doctrine assert that it allows for agency expertise to fill in the gaps of ambiguous statutes written by Congress. Opponents, however, believe Chevron violates the separation of powers as courts, not the executive branch, should determine the meaning of statutes.

Implications of the Court’s Decision

Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council is one of the most cited cases in American law, being cited in more than 18,000 federal court decision and agencies built many of their rules relying on Chevron deference. This decision could potentially lead to changing interpretations of existing laws and regulations that relied on Chevron. The majority opinion stated that holdings that relied on the Chevron doctrine to uphold agency actions will still be subject to statutory stare decisis, or the doctrine of respect for past court decisions. But Justice Kagan’s dissent argues that the majority decision “subverts every known principle of stare decisis,” and “will cause a massive shock to the legal system,” casting doubt on many settled constructions of statutes.

Background on Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. v. Raimondo

The case originated from two related challenges brought by commercial fisherman –Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce –against a National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) Rule requiring commercial fisheries to carry, and pay for, observers on their vessels. The fishermen in both cases sued, arguing that the agency does not have the authority to require industry-funded observers under the applicable statute.

The D.C. Court of Appeals and First Circuit Court of Appeals both upheld the rule, determining that the statute was ambiguous and NMFS’ interpretation was reasonable under Chevron. The plaintiffs sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes Chevron would be overturned.

Contact your BBK attorney or the BBK authors of this alert if you have questions regarding the potential implications of this decision for your organization.

Authored by BBK Partners Lowry Crook & Andre Monette, Director Ana Schwab, and Assistant Director Madeline Voitier

Disclaimer: BBK Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts, facts specific to your situation, or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information herein.