EDF Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Conserve Vital Chevron Doctrine

Leading Environmental Group Files Amicus Brief in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

September 22, 2023
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – September 22, 2023) Today Environmental Defense Fund filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could have far-reaching effects on the way the federal government can protect people from health and environmental dangers.

EDF filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo (S.Ct. 22-451) – a case challenging the Department of Commerce’s authority to conserve marine fisheries that are overfished. Commercial fishing businesses are asking the Supreme Court to find in their favor by overruling a long-established legal precedent, known as the Chevron doctrine, that requires courts to defer to Executive Branch agencies’ application of their experience, reasoned decision-making, and expertise in implementing statutes Congress has given the agencies the responsibility to administer.

The Chevron rule has been relied on by the Supreme Court itself in scores of cases, and by lower courts in thousands of cases, and has long provided a clear background rule for Congress, the Executive Branch, and the public.

EDF is asking the Court to preserve its longstanding precedent.

“The doctrine is a judicial review framework that serves a critical role in cases about protecting people’s health, climate safety, clean air and clean water, consumer fraud, food safety, workplace safety, and civil rights under the law,” said EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton. “The doctrine respects the independence of the three branches of government and safeguards Congress’s choices about how the laws it enacts should be implemented. It’s a foundational idea that all three branches of government have recognized since long before it was elaborated on by the Court in its namesake 1984 decision. Now large emitters and their allies are using this case to try to demolish administrative agencies’ ability to protect millions of people from harm.”

The Chevron doctrine takes its name from a 1984 case, Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (467 U.S. 837), which addressed the proper standards for courts to apply in reviewing agency decisions that depend on interpreting acts of Congress.  Chevron holds that, so long as federal agencies stay within the clear bounds of the law, the courts must respect the agencies’ expertise and their reasonable interpretations of federal laws. 

Under Chevron, the courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of the statute if it meets two criteria:

  • The interpretation must be consistent with the statute’s text, structure, and history.
  • The interpretation must be reasonable. 

Chevron recognizes that Congress typically chooses to enlist administrative agencies to implement statutes because it recognizes agencies have the best technical expertise, resources and knowledge to do so. (All three branches of government have recognized the legitimacy of this type of separation of powers since long before the case was decided in 1984).

Now, large emitters and their allies are asking the Supreme Court to use an otherwise narrow dispute concerning the use of fishery monitors under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act as an opportunity to sweep away the Chevron doctrine.

The D.C. Circuit has already ruled in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo that the Department of Commerce had reasonably interpreted the statute in question.

EDF’s amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to abide by three core principles:

  • Respect for Congress’s choices to delegate interpretive responsibility to the Executive Branch. Recognizing that agencies have distinctive abilities, and are responsible to the President and the people, Congress often chooses to delegate an agency power to interpret ambiguities in administering a statute. Courts should honor Congress’s judgment.
  • Respect for the constitutional status and distinctive institutional capacities and expertise of Executive Branch officials that Congress has empowered, and recognition of the substantial checks that constrain them. 
  • Respect for the people the laws serve, including beneficiaries and regulated entities alike. The Chevron doctrine promotes stability and predictability. Overturning it would generate uncertainty and instability, and impose substantial harms on millions of people.

“Efforts to overturn this legal precedent are part of a longstanding campaign by large emitters and their allies to weaken the authority entrusted to administrative agencies by Congress, authority that is essential for protecting the health, safety and well-being of all people,” said Sean Donahue of Donahue & Goldberg, EDF’s counsel of record before the Court. “This campaign is marked by the kind of sloganeering, argument by anecdote, and sacrifice of empirical rigor that are all too familiar in hardball politics but out of place in legal argumentation. EDF strongly believes the Court should reaffirm this long-standing precedent and affirm the DC Circuit’s judgment in this case.”

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