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Supreme Court Delivers Crippling Blow to Permanent Bureaucracy’s Power Over Our Lives

DCNF(DCNF)—The Supreme Court handed small fishing companies a victory Friday in their lawsuits against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), overturning a decades-old precedent that expanded the power of the administrative state.

Siding 6-3 with the fishermen, the Supreme Court reversed its 1984 landmark case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which lower courts relied on to uphold NOAA’s rule forcing companies to doll out $700 per day — around 20% of their revenue — t0 pay the salaries of federally mandated on-board observers. The principle of Chevron deference, rooted in the landmark case, instructed courts to defer to reasonable agency interpretations of statutes when the language is ambiguous.

“Chevron is overruled,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority ruling. “Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority, as the [Administrative Procedure Act] requires.”

Small fishing companies sued NOAA after the agency required businesses to pay for the on-board monitors based on its interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the law governing fishery management. In both Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, lower courts deferred to the agency’s interpretation of the law, citing the Chevron ruling.

Roberts called Chevron “a judicial invention that required judges to disregard their statutory duties.”

“Perhaps most fundamentally, Chevron’s presumption is misguided because agencies have no special competence in resolving statutory ambiguities,” Roberts wrote. “Courts do.”

Critics of Chevron argued the doctrine, in practice, enabled agencies to assert their interpretations of the law without resistance from the judiciary, giving the government the automatic upper hand when challenged in court and raising significant separation-of-powers concerns.

New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA) highlighted the burden NOAA’s rule placed on businesses in an amicus brief. The short training sea monitors receive does not equip them for the rough conditions on board, the association argued, creating safety concerns and forcing crews to shoulder the burden.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the dissent that the majority “disdains restraint, and grasps for power.”

“Its justification comes down, in the end, to this: Courts must have more say over regulation over the provision of health care, the protection of the environment, the safety of consumer products, the efficacy of transportation systems, and so on,” she wrote. “A longstanding precedent at the crux of administrative governance thus falls victim to a bald assertion of judicial authority.”

New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) President Mark Chenoweth said that “the dismantling of the unlawful Administrative State has officially begun.”

“NCLA’s fishermen clients have landed the biggest catch of their lives by persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to take its thumb off the scale when ordinary Americans are contesting unlawful government regulations,” Chenoweth said in a statement. “When NCLA was founded less than seven years ago, taking down Chevron deference was priority number one, because agencies have used it so often to violate people’s civil liberties. That ability ends today!”

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