WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether to jettison a decades-old decision that has been a frequent target of conservatives and, if overruled, could make it harder to sustain governmental regulations.
The justices agreed to hear an appeal that takes aim at a 1984 case known as Chevron. It involves the Chevron oil company and says that when laws aren’t crystal clear, federal agencies should be allowed to fill in the details. That’s what agencies do — on environmental regulations, workplace standards, consumer protections and immigration law.
The court's conservative majority already has been reining in federal regulators, including in last June's decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
But Chevron has been one of the most frequently cited high-court cases and a decision limiting its reach or overturning it altogether could dramatically limit the discretion of federal officials to regulate in a wide range of American life.
At least four conservative members of the court — Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh — have questioned the doctrine. Gorsuch, as an appeals court judge, noted that court decisions “permit executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design."
It takes four of the court's nine members to agree to hear a case, but the court as is its custom did not reveal the vote breakdown.
One wrinkle in the current case is that only eight justices will participate. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is not taking part, presumably because she was on a panel of appellate judges that heard arguments in the case when it was at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The court will not hear the case before the fall. Last week the justices finished hearing arguments for the term that is expected to wrap up in June. They will spend the next two months issuing opinions before taking a summer break.
The specific case the court agreed to hear is part of a long-running fight between commercial fishing groups and the federal government over who pays for data collection and regulatory compliance. It stems from a lawsuit by a group of fishermen who want to stop the federal government from making them pay for the workers.
The fishermen involved in the lawsuit harvest Atlantic herring, which is a major fishery off the East Coast that supplies both food and bait. Lead plaintiff Loper Bright Enterprises of New Jersey and other fishing groups have said federal rules unfairly require them to pay hundreds of dollars per day to contractors. Lower courts have ruled against them.
The case is Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, 22-451.
Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle contributed to this report from Portland, Maine.