Rule of Law

Opinion | Why the Chevron deference is needed

In his Jan. 14 op-ed, “‘Chevron’ could be the catch of the day,” George F. Will claimed that ending Chevron deference would rein in what he calls the “sprawling administrative state” by transferring power from agencies to the legislative and judicial branches of government. Mr. Will is wrong about the former but right about the latter.

Ending the Chevron deference would not return any power to Congress. Instead, it would effect a massive transfer of policymaking authority from the people’s representatives in Congress to unelected federal judges.

Chevron, since 1984, has directed courts to defer to agency interpretations of ambiguous questions of law. Congress legislates against its backdrop. When it encounters areas of law that require technical expertise, it writes statutes in capacious terms to leave policy choices open to the scientists, doctors and economists who staff government agencies and have dedicated their lives to the study of particular substantive issue areas.

Thus, transferring technical policy choices away from these experts to unelected federal judges would not be an act of congressional empowerment; it would be an act of congressional defiance. Neither the Constitution nor the Administrative Procedure Act demands this rebellion.

Let’s recognize the battle cry to overrule Chevron for what it is: a move in the conservative project to hamstring government by making it more difficult for agencies to implement the laws that Congress has passed, not a thoughtful reconsideration of a precedent on the basis of binding law.

Miriam Becker-CohenWashington

The writer is appellate counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center and a drafter of an amicus brief in support of the respondents in Loper Bright v. Raimondo.

George F. Will said the Supreme Court should overturn the Chevron deference doctrine, which would limit the ability of Congress to delegate decisions on the specifics of economic regulations to professional administrators with technical expertise. He said he looks forward to the day when “Congress would … have to be more involved in writing, and therefore accountable for, regulations.”

Perhaps Mr. Will is happy to restrict the ability of agencies to make regulations that conservatives don’t like in the first place, such as environmental protection. But consider the effect of eliminating Chevron deference on the Federal Reserve. After all, the Fed is just another administrative agency created by Congress, staffed by experts and given broad discretion to make major decisions that affect the economy. Does Mr. Will think the Fed should have to ask Congress for permission every time it wants to raise interest rates to fight inflation? Does Mr. Will think that financial institutions or borrowers should be able to sue the Fed every time one of its decisions costs them money?

John SheaEllicott City

The two-step analytic framework set forth in 1984’s Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Councilis a reasonable approach to construing the legitimacy of a regulation.

At Chevron’s first step, a court looks to the “plain meaning” of the statute to determine whether the regulation responds to it. If it does, that is the end of the inquiry and the regulation stands. However, if the statute is susceptible to multiple interpretations, the court then moves to Chevron’s second step and defers to the agency’s interpretation, as long as it is based on a permissible construction of the statute.

As a practical matter, agencies flesh out legislation to achieve objectives because, unlike our politicians and judges, agency personnel have the expertise necessary to do so. They do so under the guidance of the executive branch, which has the authority to carry out and enforce congressional legislation. And the judiciary has the authority and opportunity to review the legitimacy of agency regulations. Chevron deference complies, not conflicts, with the separation of powers doctrine.

Without agency expertise to flesh out legislation through the regulatory process, the United States would sink to a level of gross incompetence.

If a regulation is overly burdensome, it does not mean it’s illegitimate. The judiciary could simply rule that an overly burdensome regulation amounts to a “regulatory taking” under the eminent domain clause of our Constitution and justly compensate those who must comply with the regulation to relieve them of the financial burden the regulation imposes.

Maurice F. BaggianoJamestown, N.Y.