Agency Power Ruling: Impact on Biden Administration, Climate Policy, and Separation of Powers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court is preparing to hear two cases regarding the future of a cornerstone principle in administrative law known as Chevron deference. This doctrine has been a crucial factor in judicial rulings concerning government actions. The outcome of these cases could have a significant impact on the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, raising concerns about the potential limitation of a president’s policymaking authority.

If the Court rules broadly against agency power, it could potentially hinder the ability of President Joe Biden and his successors to use ambitious agency regulations to achieve policy goals. This is especially relevant for Democratic presidents, who have increasingly relied on these regulations due to difficulties in navigating a gridlocked Congress. The debate revolves around the 1984 Supreme Court case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which introduced the eponymous doctrine. This principle asserts that when a law passed by Congress is ambiguous, judges should defer to the interpretation provided by the regulatory agency, as long as it is reasonable.

The defenders of Chevron deference argue that it prevents judges from second-guessing technical decisions made by expert agencies. However, opponents believe that it violates the separation of powers, giving agencies unchecked authority and diminishing the role of federal judges. The tension between these positions sets the stage for a significant legal battle with implications that stretch far beyond environmental regulations.

In recent years, Chevron deference has been applied to a wide range of policy decisions across the federal government. It has been invoked in cases concerning environmental regulations, mine safety rules, IRS whistleblower awards, veterans’ benefits, and immigration policy. The doctrine has become a central issue in the debate over the balance of power between the branches of government.

The Supreme Court’s Republican appointees have been notably critical of Chevron deference, with some openly expressing a desire to limit or overturn it. Their concerns center around the potential unconstitutional delegation of powers from Congress to the Executive Branch. The looming showdown over Chevron deference has united legal activists on the right, who believe that reining in the federal bureaucracy is a top priority. However, eliminating Chevron deference would also limit the power of Republican presidents, creating a complex political landscape.

The Biden administration has staunchly defended the doctrine, arguing that it respects the separation of powers and embodies the principle of “stare decisis,” which calls for the respect of precedents. The administration contends that because Congress has not taken steps to alter or eliminate Chevron deference, it should be upheld by the Court. These arguments set the stage for a high-stakes legal battle that may define the future landscape of agency authority.