Supreme Court Poised To End ‘Constitutional Revolution’

By Robert Cunningham, updated on January 30, 2024

A landmark legal battle looms on the horizon.

The highest court in the United States is set to scrutinize the very foundation of executive power over the interpretation of law.

We are approaching a critical juncture in the United States as the Supreme Court prepares to review cases that may significantly alter the balance of power within the federal government. This reevaluation may change the longstanding ways in which federal agencies exercise their authority to make rules.

The concept of Chevron deference is central to the upcoming legal debates, a key doctrine that has allowed agencies to interpret unclear laws, but its future is now uncertain.

Supreme Court Reviews Authority of Federal Agencies

The Chevron deference, originating from a 1984 Supreme Court case, has long been a cornerstone of administrative law, guiding how agencies interpret and enforce legislation. Justice John Paul Stephens' significant opinion in that case has shaped how agencies leverage their expertise to define unclear statutory mandates. The essence of this deference lies in the trust placed in these agencies to act within the realm of their discretion, guided by the policy positions of the prevailing presidential administration.

Yet, this deference has not been without its detractors. Critics argue that it has led to overexpansion of the administrative state, allowing agencies to create rules with the force of legislation without the explicit backing of Congress. This has been a point of contention for those who believe that such power should be firmly within the legislative sphere, as outlined by Article I of the Constitution.

Now, the Supreme Court is poised to revisit this doctrine through the lens of two cases, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce. These cases involve family-owned fishing businesses that have been directly impacted by the regulatory interpretations of the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The dispute centers around the costs imposed by the agency for federal monitors, a burden that the businesses argue was not clearly authorized by the statute itself.

Potential End to a Long-Established Precedent

Thomas M. Boyd, a former assistant attorney general, has articulated the possible monumental shift these cases could mark in the legal order. In his column for the New York Post, Boyd reflects on the constitutional implications of the court's potential rulings.

At long last, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that may signal the beginning of the end to that revolution.

This quote by Boyd underscores the gravity of the situation as the court considers whether to uphold, overrule, or refine the Chevron doctrine in light of statutory silence. The decision could end a constitutional shift that began in the Reagan era, which saw the executive branch accruing significant interpretive powers.

The justices' originalist views will likely play a crucial role in their deliberation as they weigh the principles of the Constitution against forty years of regulatory and judicial practice. The question they pose is not just a technical one but a profound inquiry into the nature of American governance: does statutory silence grant agencies the freedom to act expansively, or does it impose a limit on their authority?

The Far-Reaching Implications for American Governance

The Supreme Court's involvement could mark a turning point for Chevron deference, igniting discussions among both conservatives and liberals. This is due to its implications for the separation of powers within the U.S. government.

Peter Wallison, who served as White House counsel under President Ronald Reagan, has argued that Chevron deference is a primary reason for the unchecked expansion of the administrative state. His perspective resonates with many who are concerned about the increasing scope of federal agencies.

As the court reaches a decision, we are on the verge of what could be a significant adjustment of federal power. This adjustment could have consequences for the fishing industry and establish a benchmark that affects all industries under federal regulation. The ruling could shape the limits within which these agencies operate for many years to come.

Conclusion

The U.S. Supreme Court's forthcoming decisions on Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce could herald a significant transformation in the relationship between Congress and federal agencies.

With the Chevron deference's fate hanging in the balance, the court could redefine the limits of executive rule-making authority, impacting how laws are interpreted and implemented across the board. The cases underscore a broader debate on the administrative state's power and legislative authority's constitutional mandate.

As the nation awaits these rulings, the Supreme Court's interpretation of statutory silence will be critical, potentially marking the end of a long-standing legal understanding and shaping the future of American governance.

About Robert Cunningham

With years of experience at the forefront of political commentary, Robert Cunningham brings a blend of sharp wit and deep insight to his analysis of American principles at the Capitalism Institute.

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