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The People’s Principle: Chevron Deference Protects the Public

What’s at Stake as the Future of a 40-Year-Old Legal Doctrine Hangs in the Balance at the Supreme Court

By Elizabeth "Bitsy" Skerry, regulatory policy associate for Public Citizen

The day is June 25, 1984. Prince has released his sixth studio album, “Purple Rain,” the movie Ghostbusters is number one at the box office, and the U.S. Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Counsel, which will go on to be one of the most cited Supreme Court decisions in history. 

Now, 40 years later, the Supreme Court is considering overturning this longstanding precedent in two cases that will be decided any day now, called Loper Bright and Relentless.

The Chevron decision established a framework for judicial review of agency regulations. Known as “Chevron deference,” this framework instructs judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of the statute that it is charged with implementing if that interpretation is reasonable. The approach respects Congress’ decision to delegate certain policy decisions to subject-matter experts at the agencies.

To put it simply, Chevron deference respects the separation of powers, and ensures that agency experts, not judges, make policy decisions.

For example, Congress in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act instructed the Food and Drug Administration to approve new medical devices shown to have reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness, leaving it to the medical and scientific experts at the agency to determine what types of studies and evidence provide that assurance. The same is true for laws that Congress passes to protect workers, the environment, public health and safety, and other issues of importance.

Who do you want making decisions about what constitutes safe drinking water or clean air? Subject-matter experts with public input, or judges?  

Gutting Chevron deference will make it harder for federal agencies to carry out their congressionally-mandated missions to protect the public.

Let’s not turn the clock back. The world is better with Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Ghostbusters, and Chevron deference.