Changes in Federal Rulemaking Power Due to the Overturn of Chevron Doctrine

Jul 2, 2024 | Blogs


Rafe Petersen, Holland & Knight, Washington, DC


Sanjiv K. Sinha, Ph.D., CIS, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo on June 28, 2024. At issue in Loperis the “Chevron doctrine”, which held that judges should defer to a federal agencies’ reasonable interpretations of their powers in cases where the law is ambiguous or unclear.  Chevron – a central doctrine of administrative law – had stood since 1984.

Three Cape May herring fishermen, of Loper Bright Enterprises, contested the mandate requiring them to relinquish twenty percent of their earnings to fund at-sea monitors, who gather regulatory data. This requirement, imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was not explicitly required in the underlying law. Historically, courts’ deference to regulatory agencies interpretations of their laws, under the Chevron doctrine, had hindered the fishermen’s efforts to challenge this requirement. Their fight embodied a quest for fairness in an industry shaped by bureaucratic decisions, underscoring the enduring tensions between regulatory power and individual rights.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that Chevron conflicts with the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) command that courts, not agencies, are to “decide all relevant questions of law” and “interpret statutory provisions.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts began his analysis by stating “[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Historically, the Court noted that the judiciary afforded respect to executive branch interpretations of statutes, but such views could merely “inform the judgment of the Judiciary” and did not supersede it.

The Court recognized that the APA “makes clear that agency interpretations of statutes – such as agency interpretations of the Constitution – are not entitled to deference.” The Court reiterated that courts, not agencies, have “special competence in resolving statutory ambiguities,” and the Framers anticipated that courts would resolve them by exercising independent legal judgment.  If Congress and the agencies disagree as to whether the laws provide the agencies the authority, the Supreme Court stated that “they are of course always free to act by revising the statute.”

The Loper Bright decision has particular importance to laws that address evolving scientific and technological knowledge such as climate change, which were not contemplated when these statutes were written. Because the laws do not explicitly require such regulation, there is a dispute as to whether the agencies can act without amending the laws.  On the other hand, in the realm of climate policy, federal agencies often face legal challenges when attempting to roll back or weaken existing environmental regulations. In other words, it can cut both ways – whether it be a future administration’s attempt to expand authority to address, say, sea level rise, or an attempt to scale back its authority.

In summary, while Loper Bright directly addresses administrative law and regulatory practices, its ripple effects are significant for climate change and more recent developments in environmental law. By promoting judicial scrutiny and accountability in environmental regulation, the decision contributes to a more rigorous and transparent approach to addressing climate challenges through governmental actions and policies.  Clearly there will be more challenges to the scope of agency authority.  The Court held that holdings of existing cases are binding for now, but that does not ensure that even commonly accepted interpretations of environmental laws will not be challenged under this new standard.