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US: Supreme Court ruling limits power of federal agencies

June 28, 2024

The US Supreme Court has overturned a 40-year-old decision that made it easier for the federal government to regulate issues like the environment, public health, workplace safety and consumer protection.

US Supreme Court in Washington
In recent years, the US Supreme Court's conservative majority has sought to limit the power of federal agencies.Image: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo/picture alliance

The US Supreme Court on Friday dealt a major blow to federal regulatory power, overturning a 1984 precedent that gave deference to government agencies in interpreting the laws they administer.

The justices ruled 6-3 in favor of fishing companies challenging a government program, funded in part by the industry, to monitor the overfishing of herring off New England.

The precedent the court overturned stemmed from a ruling involving the oil company Chevron, which is why it is colloquially known as "Chevron."

What did the justices say?

"Chevron is overruled. Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority," conservative Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling.

Meanwhile, liberal Justice Elena Kagan criticized the ruling, saying it "once again elevates the power of the Supreme Court over other branches of the U.S. government.

"A rule of judicial humility gives way to a rule of judicial hubris. In recent years, this court has too often taken for itself decision-making authority Congress assigned to agencies," Kagan wrote.

In that ruling, the court's conservative justices were in the majority, with the liberal justices dissenting.

What was the significance of the precedent?

The rule has long been a conservative target in the US. It said that federal agencies should take the lead in interpreting areas of their remit where laws were not entirely clear.

Supporters of the rule said it allowed experts to make often difficult decisions, while opponents said it was wrongly taking power from judges and handing it to government employees.

Overturning "Chevron" could lead to an array of other cases and challenges, often to past government actions and spending: the Biden administration had warned of an "unwarranted shock to the legal system." 

dh/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)