The Supreme Court agreed Monday to reconsider long held precedent and decide whether to significantly scale back on the power of federal agencies in a case that can impact everything from how the government addresses everything from climate change to public health to immigration.
Conservative justices have long sought to rein in regulatory authority, arguing that Washington has too much control over American businesses and individual lives. The justices have been incrementally diminishing federal power but the new case would allow them to take a much broader stride.
The justices announced they would take up an appeal from herring fishermen in the Atlantic who say the National Marine Fisheries Service does not have the authority to require them to pay the salaries of government monitors who ride aboard the fishing vessels.
Their action means they will reconsider a 1984 case – Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council – that sets forward factors to determine when courts should defer to a government agency’s interpretation of the law.
Conservatives on the bench have cast a skeptical eye on the so-called Chevron deference, arguing that agencies are often too insulated from the usual checks and balances essential to the separation of powers.
“The idea that agencies should be allowed to resolve ambiguities in statutes that they enforce has been a central feature of modern administrative law,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“If it’s up to courts rather than agencies to resolve ambiguities even in statutes delegating highly technical authority to the executive branch, that will give courts more power – and the executive branch less – on everything from environmental regulation to immigration to public health to meat inspections to telecommunications policy,” Vladeck said. “In that respect, it’s consistent with the current conservative majority’s pattern of weakening the administrative state – in favor of judicial power to answer all of these questions.”
The case will be heard next term, with a ruling likely in 2024.
A separate case already on the justices’ calendar for next session, which begins in October, relatedly offers the opportunity to rein in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which currently oversees practices related to mortgages, car loans and credit cards.
Government monitors and space on fishing boats
In the case at hand, the herring fishermen, represented by former Solicitor General Paul Clement, argue that their boats normally only have room for five or six individuals. Now, they are not only required to carry the monitors (who are checking to see if federal regulations concerning fishery conservation are being followed) but the National Marine Fisheries Service says they must pay the observers’ salaries as well.
Clement argued that the agency exceeded its authority and needed direct and clear congressional authorization to make the demand. “In a country that values limited government and the separation of powers, such an extraordinary power should require the clearest of congressional grants,” he said.
A federal appeals court deferred to the agency.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that the agency was acting within the scope of its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and said the fishermen are not responsible for all the costs. The regulation was put in place to combat overfishing of the fisheries off the coasts of the US.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Joan Biskupic contributed to this report.