Lawrence Pareles: Ability to regulate effectively hangs in the balance 

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Washington. AP PHOTO/MARIAM ZUHAIB

Published: 02-06-2024 4:01 PM

I’m concerned about a new potential threat to our government because the right-wing Supreme Court is considering and might overturn the 1984 “Chevron deference” doctrine. This technical principle lets federal agencies interpret laws passed by Congress, with the courts deferring to the expertise of the agencies who make the detailed rules needed to implement them. This means that federal courts don’t try to interpret or change agency rules — people can’t just challenge rules they don’t like in court.

If the Supreme Court overturns this rule which has worked well for 50 years it could cause serious problems. Under Chevron deference, federal agencies use their expertise to clarify unclear areas within laws to ensure smooth implementation. For example, when Congress passes a law to make school water safe from lead, agency experts set clear rules about what that means.

Corporations say these rules pose burdensome requirements that limit their profits, but they have record profits already. Changing this would put important federal protections at risk for things that affect everyone in America, like clean air and water, pure food and drugs, transportation safety, climate change rules, health care, and more.

The Chevron deference doctrine makes rules predictable, helping businesses and citizens work with regulations to keep things orderly and legal. Disrupting it would result in chaos, lots of lawsuits, and block regulatory processes. It would put difficult technical decisions in the hands of judges instead of experts in various fields.

Additionally, Chevron deference allows agencies to change rules when circumstances require, which is vital for addressing complex issues quickly. Without it, a gridlocked Congress would have a hard time passing laws with precise new rules quickly, giving even more power to those seeking to end all government oversight.

The dismantling of Chevron deference could enable corporations, the rich, and MAGA Republicans to challenge any federal rules that they don’t like in the courts. I believe that if the Supreme Court changes or eliminates Chevron deference, this could threaten the stability and effectiveness of many of our legal and regulatory systems. It’s really important to protect these systems for the good of our America. I hope that many readers will contact their representatives to voice their concerns about this issue. I know I will.

Lawrence Pareles


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