This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that strike at the heart of federal regulatory authority. Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, could potentially dismantle the Chevron doctrine. Established in 1984, this doctrine states that judges should defer to federal agencies’ interpretations of a law when Congress’s directives are ambiguous. This precedent is critical for upholding regulations on everything from climate change to public health.
The plaintiffs in these cases, herring fishermen challenging federal rules about onboard compliance monitors, are backed by right-wing groups with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. These groups, funded by the Koch network, see this as an opportunity to upend the federal government’s ability to enforce regulations.
The stakes are high, as Caroline Ciccone from Accountable.US points out. A decision weakening government oversight could lead to worsening environmental pollution and compromised consumer safety, all for corporate profit. This sentiment is echoed by other observers, who see the potential unraveling of decades of progress in regulatory oversight.
Justice Elena Kagan voiced concerns during the hearing about entrusting judges, who often lack expertise in specific areas, with decisions previously handled by agencies staffed with subject matter experts. Her apprehensions highlight the fundamental issue at play: should legal interpretations override scientific and expert analysis in matters of regulatory policy?
The implications of a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs extend far beyond fisheries. It could result in uneven law interpretations across the country and replace scientific management with the policy and ideological preferences of unelected judges. As Meredith Moore of Ocean Conservancy argues, this could threaten not just fishery management but all environmental and social programs that protect our health and safety.
Stand Up America’s Tishan Weerasooriya warns that overturning Chevron would cater to the interests of wealthy corporations at the expense of the public. It would erode the ability of scientists and experts at government agencies to uphold Americans’ rights to clean water and air, worker protections, healthcare, and more.
These cases represent a crucial juncture in U.S. legal and regulatory history. The decisions made by the Supreme Court could drastically reshape the landscape of federal regulatory power, potentially rolling back decades of progress in environmental protection, public health, and civil rights. As the nation awaits the Court’s verdict, the question looms: Will the Court uphold the Chevron doctrine, or will it hand over the reins of regulatory power to ideologically driven judges, much to the detriment of scientific expertise and public welfare?