The Supreme Court will hear a case that could limit the power of the federal government

The Supreme Court will hear a case that could limit the power of the federal government

On a crisp autumn morning in southern New Jersey, the weather was too bad for fishing boats to go out to sea at the center of an important Supreme Court case.

A herring fisherman named Bill Bright spoke about the case, which will be debated Wednesday, and what he said could remove tough fishing regulation and erase the most important precedent on the power of executive agencies, which is a long overdue goal. Conservative legal movement.

As workers cleaned the squid and a breeze blew in the salty air on the dock, Mr. Bright, who has been fishing for 40 years and whose family-owned company is one of the plaintiffs, said he understood the impact of the case. Have recognized.

“I can understand why this issue is such a political issue,” he said. “But to me, it’s not political. This is my livelihood.”

Mr Bright is backed by a conservative group whose ambitions extend far beyond fishing regulations. Its purpose is to overturn a fundamental decision of 1984, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense CouncilOne of the most cited cases in American law.

The conservative legal movement and business groups have long objected to this decision, based partly on a general hostility toward government regulation and partly based on the separation of powers belief that agencies have only those There should be power which Congress has clearly given. Them.

Overturning the decision could threaten regulations on the environment, health care, consumer safety, nuclear energy, government benefit programs and guns. With this, power will also shift from agencies to judges.

Mr. Bright presented the basic question in his case.

A 1976 federal law requires herring boats to carry federal observers to collect data needed to prevent overfishing. It was okay with him.

“There’s nothing wrong with monitors,” he said. “They’re really collecting information that’s valuable to us.”

But a 2020 regulation interpreting the law that required his company to pay for inspections at a rate of about $700 per day was another matter. “I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. He said Congress did not authorize the agency to impose the fee.

He did the math. In a good week at sea we could catch $100,000 worth of herring, which would make us happy, he said. The monitor’s fee would add up to 5 percent to this, equivalent to the $5,000 shares claimed by each of the four crew members, who could spend weeks without pay preparing for the voyage. He said not every week is a good week at sea.

“That tax,” he said, referring to the monitors’ fees, “is going to be very burdensome for a business that is very burdened in the beginning with all the high fuel costs, all our supplies, our nets, our gear.”

Mr. Bright did not dispute that Congress could impose such a fee. But he said – and this is the central issue in the case before the Supreme Court – that judges, rather than regulators, should decide whether the 1976 law allows it.

The Chevron decision established the framework under attack in Mr. Bright’s case, ruling that courts must defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of vague statutes.

This statement may sound dry, but it has determined the outcomes of countless disputes, including Mr. Bright’s case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, No. 22-452, and a nearly identical case involving herring fishermen of Rhode Island, Relentless v. Is. Department of Commerce, No. 22-1219, to be argued simultaneously.

In both cases, appeals courts – one in Washington, the other in Boston – ruled that the deference called for by the Chevron decision required the government’s decision. United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, Government That the agency’s interpretation of the 1976 law “allowed industry-funded surveillance to be reasonable.” First Circuit, in Boston, Said That “at least” the agency’s interpretation of the 1976 law was “certainly reasonable.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has previously been recused from the case because she participated in it as a federal appeals court judge. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a second case in October, five months after agreeing to hear one of the New Jersey cases.

If the Supreme Court were to overturn a major precedent, the justices clearly calculated it would be better off getting the decision from a nine-member court.

Matters are interesting in a way, as the Biden administration points out a brief rescue chevron, “In practice, the monitoring provisions of the 2020 rule have had no financial impact on regulated vessels,” the brief says, adding that the program was suspended last year and the agency has reimbursed the monitoring costs incurred under it. Was reimbursed.

Who represents Mr. Bright’s company? cause of action institution, which says its mission is to “limit the power of the administrative state”. Who represents the plaintiff in the Rhode Island case? New Civil Liberties Alliance, which says its purpose is “to protect constitutional liberties from infringement by the administrative state.” Both groups have financial ties to a network of foundations and advocacy organizations funded by billionaire Charles Koch, who has long supported conservative and liberal causes.

In their brief, both groups pointed out that Chevron has not received support at the Supreme Court in recent years, and has been criticized by several justices.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in An agreed opinion in 2015wrote that Chevron “takes away from the courts the ultimate interpretive authority to say what the law is, and turns it over to the executive.”

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch reiterated the same point a 2022 disagreement, “Instead of telling us what the law is,” he wrote, “we tell those who come before us to ask some bureaucrat.”

The Supreme Court, which has called on Chevron at least 70 times to decide cases, has not done so since 2016.

“The question is less whether this court should overrule Chevron,” said Paul D. Clement, one of Mr. Bright’s lawyers. told the judges“And even more so whether it should let lower courts and citizens into the news.”

Even though it has ignored Chevron, the Supreme Court has increasingly relied on the “major question doctrine,” which requires Congress to speak particularly clearly when it asks the executive branch about a matter of political or economic importance. Authorizes taking up cases.

Forty years ago, when the Chevron decision was reached unanimously but by a six-member Supreme Court, with three justices abstaining, it was generally seen as a victory for conservatives. In response to a challenge from environmental groups, the justices upheld a Reagan-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that loosened regulation of emissions, saying the Environmental Protection Agency’s reading of the statute was “a reasonable construction” that ” Deserved respect.” ,

The modern conservative attack on Chevron, its supporters say, is an attack on the expertise and independence of regulatory and administrative agencies.

Mr. Clement retorted that the question did not require special knowledge in the case of Mr. Bright and similar ones.

“Chevron is not limited to thorny technical and scientific questions, as this case well illustrates,” he wrote. “No scientific or technical expertise is required to determine whether a cash-strapped agency has the legal authority to expand its enforcement regime by forcing the governed to pay the bill.”

Challengers in the Rhode Island case said that expertise does not confer the power to interpret the statute. “Nobody thinks that Congress can compel the courts to defer to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in business matters, or the NAACP in race-discrimination matters, or the American Medical Association in public-health matters.” His brief said“Simply because these groups have expertise in each subject area.”

Another objection was raised in the brief, stating that Chevron systematically favors the government and therefore violates due process.

The Biden administration, represented by Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogger did, defended the decisionStating that executive agencies, unlike the courts, are politically accountable.

“The executive branch,” he wrote, “is controlled by the President, who is elected by the American people. When a court enforces Chevron, it is giving effect to choices made by the American people as an exercise of self-governance.

The Supreme Court has rejected major precedents in recent years, notably on the constitutional right to abortion and allowing race-conscious admissions to higher education. Ms. Preloger urged the court to uphold Chevron, calling it “a cornerstone of administrative law.”

“Rejecting Chevron would be a devastating blow to the legal system,” Ms. Preloger wrote.

In Cape May, Mr. Bright said he recognized what impact that could have on his case.

“The role of the government has been good overall, because we know that without it most of us would not be able to fish today,” he said. But he also said there should be limits.

“I don’t want to eliminate the observer program,” he said. “I would like to maintain what we are doing without additional costs.”

hiroko tabuchi Contributed to the reporting.

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