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Supreme Court limits administrative law precedent

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 to place limits on a controversial 40-year-old ruling. The decision puts some judicial restraints on federal agencies implementing regulations without those rules having been passed by Congress.

The forty-year-old Chevron decision gave federal agencies broad powers to write their own interpretation of laws through rulemaking powers. Under the Constitution, Congress passes the laws and the executive branch enforces them. This constitutional separation of powers has been increasingly limited as federal executive branch agencies have claimed broad powers to write rules and then impose their will on businesses, state and local governments, farms, and families – without Congress ever voting to pass the rule.

The now-overturned Chevron deference ordered judges to defer to the expertise of these unelected executive branch agencies whenever the law is ambiguous.

Friday's ruling empowers judges to provide their own best interpretation of the law, rather than deferring to the increasingly unaccountable executive agencies. This will make it easier, in theory, for states, businesses, farmers, and families to successfully win court challenges of these often arbitrary and politically motivated executive branch rulings.

The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"Chevron is overruled," wrote Chief Justice Roberts. "Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority."

While the conservative justices overturned the controversial Chevron decision, they did not retroactively overturn every court case in the last forty years that based the decision on the now discredited Chevron ruling.

"We do not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron framework," Roberts wrote wrote. "The holdings of those cases that specific agency actions are lawful-including the Clean Air Act holding of Chevron itself-are still subject to statutory stare decisis despite our change in interpretive methodology."

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent.

"At its core, Chevron is about respecting that allocation of responsibility-the conferral of majority does not respect that judgment. It gives courts the power to make all manner of scientific and technical judgments. It gives courts the power to make all manner of policy calls."

The court did not strip executive agencies from being able to write rules and administer mandates from their offices in D.C., but what it does do is make the bar lower so that companies, states, families, churches, schools, farmers, and other parties impacted by that often arbitrary rulemaking can challenge the rules in court and those challenges actually be heard by a judge rather than the court declining to intervene citing the Chevron precedent.

The move was yet another defeat for the Biden administration which had defended the precedent before the Supreme Court.

Justice Neal Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion, "Today, the Court places a tombstone on Chevron no one can miss. In doing so, the Court returns judges to interpretive rules that have guided federal courts since the Nation's founding."

Based loosely on original reporting by the Hill's Rachel Frazin and Zach Sonfeld.

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