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Supreme Court Strikes Down Administrative State Tyranny

July 1, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court took an important step in defense of both democracy and freedom on Friday when it overruled a 1984 case called Chevron v. NRDC. That decision—which gave federal bureaucracies power to essentially act without meaningful legal limitations—was adopted out of a concern for “judicial restraint.”

It required judges to accept (or “defer to”) legal interpretations adopted by unelected bureaucrats, despite the fact that judges are supposed to be the ones responsible for interpreting the law. The predictable result was that administrative agencies began interpreting laws in ways that expanded their own power. In other words, a “restrained” judiciary ended up meaning an unrestrained bureaucracy.

To understand how Chevron’s “deference” rule worked, consider the Clean Water Act—the federal law that prohibits anyone from “discharging” a “pollutant” into a “water of the United States.” What do these terms mean? Under Chevron, they basically meant whatever the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said they meant. And, unsurprisingly, the EPA began adopting the broadest possible interpretations of these terms. It even declared perfectly dry land to be “waters of the United States” (by labeling them “wetlands”), and said that soil that’s already on the bottom of a river was a “pollutant” if it enters the river…even though it’s already there. And if anyone charged with violating the act went to court to challenge its interpretations of these terms, Chevron required the judge to defer the EPA—that is, rubber-stamp the bureaucracy’s decision.

Read the rest of the op-ed at The Orange County Register.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.



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