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VICTORY! Idaho Becomes Latest State to End Judicial Deference to Administrative State

March 29, 2024

In a punishing blow against unelected bureaucrats, Gov. Brad Little signed legislation today that ensures fairness in the judicial system and guarantees the proper separation of powers in Idaho.

Championed by Speaker of the House Mike Moyle and Rep. Vito Barbieri, House Bill 626 ends judicial deference to agency interpretations of statutes or rules and requires courts to instead interpret the relevant questions of law themselves, or de novo. 

For too long, judges have given undue deferential weight to legal arguments made by unelected bureaucrats, which subverts our judicial system and stacks the deck against average Idahoans. Even worse, when judges automatically defer to government interpretations of law and uphold expansive interpretations that expand bureaucratic power, they effectively turn the executive branch into a lawmaking entity in direct contradiction of the separation of powers laid out in our Constitution.

This pernicious practice can be particularly harmful when Idahoans without adequate resources or legal knowledge must defend themselves in administrative hearings. Negative outcomes in administrative hearings often have a permanent impact when a harmful agency action is predictably upheld on appeal by a deferential judge. The status quo is woefully biased in favor of the government’s legal arguments in those hearings, which can irreparably harm Idahoans from all walks of life.

Fortunately, HB 626 makes good on our judicial system’s promise that both parties are truly equal before the law by ensuring that judges do not automatically defer to the government’s legal arguments on questions of law. Even more, the bill ensures the proper separation of powers by keeping the executive branch from exercising powers that are reserved to the legislative branch.

In 2018, based on legislation developed by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona became the first state in the country to end judicial deference to unelected bureaucrats. Since then, 13 other states have ended this unjust practice through legislation or litigation. Idaho is the third state this year to adopt legislation ending judicial deference, joining Indiana and Nebraska.

The Goldwater Institute applauds Speaker Mike Moyle, Rep. Vito Barbieri, Gov. Little and the members of the Idaho legislature for passing this impactful reform. The Institute also applauds its partner organization Pacific Legal Foundation for collaborating on this major win for liberty.

Brian Norman is the Director of State Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.



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