Jan 17, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Federal power is on the chopping block at SCOTUS

Photo: Kent Nishimura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case that could significantly roll back the federal government's regulatory power.

Why it matters: It may not be as sexy as cases involving former President Trump, but this one has major implications for all future presidents' ability to advance their agenda through executive action.

Details: The case before the court this morning is a challenge to the doctrine known as "Chevron deference."

How it works: When a law passed by Congress isn't crystal clear on one point or another, the courts have historically deferred to the interpretation of whichever agency in the executive branch is tasked with implementing that law.

  • The idea was to make the process easier for everyone, but the doctrine has become a prime target on the right as agencies have relied on it to advance a host of tough regulations, especially environmental rules.
  • If the doctrine goes away — which is likely — the courts will second-guess agencies more often. And that will likely mean that fewer regulations will survive.

Reality check: The court's conservative majority has so far seemed largely united in its desire to roll back federal regulatory power, and Chevron is already on its way out.

  • Even in recent cases where the justices have sided with federal agencies, they've usually done so after conducting their own statutory analysis — not simply by rubber-stamping those agencies' judgments.
  • And the conservative justices have invoked other legal tests that make it harder for the executive branch to enact particularly sweeping rules across a host of policy areas, from public health to the environment to student-loan forgiveness.

A ruling is expected by June.

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