In 1984, in a decision called Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Supreme Court held that courts, when considering a challenge to a federal agency action, should defer to the agency if the statute is ambiguous and the agency’s action is reasonable. Since then, courts have used so-called “Chevron deference” as one tool of statutory interpretation in countless cases.
Sometimes, when a statute’s meaning is not clear, it is clear that Congress left a gap for the agency to fill, in light of the agency’s expertise and experience with the particular substantive area. Sometimes, resolving a statute’s ambiguity is a policy call, perhaps reconciling conflicting policies. As Justice Stevens observed in Chevron, the Constitution vests the political branches, not the judicial branch, with the responsibility for making policy choices. Chevron deference helps agencies to issue and enforce regulations to implement laws enacted to protect public health and safety, consumer finances, and the environment.
In recent years, business and conservative groups, generally opposed to regulation, have increasingly challenged that Chevron deference. Last spring, the Supreme Court granted a petition asking it to reconsider the doctrine.
Public Citizen filed an amicus brief to support judicial deference to an agency’s reading of a statute where Congress gave the agency authority to fill gaps in a regulatory scheme created by statute. Our brief explains that Chevron deference is fully consistent with the requirement that courts interpret statutes. Chevron commands deference only when a court has determined that a law gives an agency discretion to rely on its experience and expertise to resolve an ambiguity through regulations or other actions.