This case involves a veteran’s claim for disability benefits. A review board of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs denied the claim, based in part on its interpretation of a regulation providing for consideration of “relevant service records.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the decision. The court held that the regulation was ambiguous and that under longstanding Supreme Court case law, exemplified by the decisions in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. and Auer v. Robbins, the court should defer to the agency’s interpretation of its regulation.
In 2018, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether to overrule Seminole Rock and Auer. Public Citizen filed a brief an amicus curiae in support of neither party. The brief argues that judicial deference doctrines do not reflect abdication of the courts’ role of deciding law, but rather fulfill congressional intent. The brief urged the Court not to decide the case in a way that calls into question the Chevron doctrine that provides for deference to regulations embodying agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous statutory mandates. It also argued that the Auer/Seminole Rock doctrine, if properly understood to require deference to agency actions that reflect reasonable construction of regulations, properly implements the Administrative Procedure Act and statutes delegating authority to agencies.
In a decision issued on June 26, 2019, the Court did not overrule Auer. Instead, the majority opinion cabins the scope of Auer deference, in a way similar to that described in our amicus brief.