U.S. Supreme Court Signals It Will Claw Back Federal Agency Power

The Supreme Court’s conservatives appeared inclined to cut back the regulatory power of federal agencies, with several justices during a pair of arguments Wednesday seeming ready to overrule a legal doctrine that has bolstered agencies’ authority for decades.

Over more than three hours of argument, the justices put the Biden administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer on defense as she sought to preserve Chevron deference, which instructs courts to defer to agencies’ interpretation of federal law if it could have multiple meanings.

The practice has strengthened presidential administrations’ ability to regulate wide aspects of daily life. The range of examples referenced at the arguments revealed the breadth of Chevron’s impact: artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, environmental protections and more.

Although several conservative justices railed against the precedent during Wednesday’s arguments, it remains unclear whether a majority is willing to outright overrule Chevron, which would mark a major legal victory for business and anti-regulatory interests. The court could instead narrow the doctrine’s scope without explicitly disavowing it.

In particular, three members of the high court’s conservative wing — Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — reiterated their long-publicized concerns about the precedent’s viability.

The court’s three liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, meanwhile, expressed opposition to overturning Chevron. They emphasized a desire to defer to subject-matter experts at agencies when ambiguous, complicated policy issues arise, rather than having a judge attempt to draw the line.

Decisions in the cases, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, are expected by the end of June