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June 28, 2024

Supreme Court Decides Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

On June 28, 2024, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, No. 22-451, overruling the doctrine of Chevron deference and holding that courts “must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

The case arose out of a dispute under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (FCMA), which authorizes regional councils to set certain standards for fishing off the coast of the United States. To ensure that those standards are followed, vessels may be required to carry an “observer” who monitors their fishing activity. The statute states three groups may be required to cover the costs of the observers, but it does not address whether Atlantic herring fishermen may be required to bear them. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that administers the FCMA, adopted a rule that required Atlantic herring fishermen to pay the fees for the observers as well.

Businesses that operate in the Atlantic herring fishery challenged the rule in two federal district courts. They argued, in the main, that because the statute expressly listed three categories of vessels that must pay for the observers, the federal agency did not have statutory authority to add another to the list. Both district courts upheld the rule as a permissible reading of the FCMA. The Court of Appeals for the First and D.C. Circuits each affirmed, both in reliance on the Chevron doctrine. The doctrine takes its name from a 1984 Supreme Court case, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), which held that if a court concluded that a statute was silent or ambiguous (Step One), the court must defer to an agency’s permissible construction of the statute (Step Two). 

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and overruled the Chevron doctrine. The Court found that the Administrative Procedure Act — which was not addressed in Chevron — “incorporates the traditional understanding of the judicial function, under which courts must exercise independent judgment in determining the meaning of statutory provisions.” The Court rejected the “presumption” of agency expertise, reasoning that resolving statutory ambiguity is within a court’s, not an agency’s competency, and to the extent there are facts within an agency’s expertise, the agency can inform — but not bind — a court. The Court also rejected the rationale that Chevron promotes uniformity, given the unevenness of its application. Finally, it found that stare decisis did not require adherence to the decision in Chevron, which had proven unworkable in practice. The Court vacated and remanded.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch each filed concurring opinions. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Jackson joined.

Download Opinion of the Court

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