The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Chevron deference and interpretations of Texas law

US Constitution by Jonathan Thorne (flickr), unmodified via CC BY-NC 2.0 license

So, last week, besides the Presidential debate, the other big piece of news was that the U.S.Supreme Court handed down its latest slew of rulings on various cases. One big ruling that raised many eyebrows was the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo. In the case, the U.S.Supreme Court reversed the doctrine of what has become known as Chevron Deference. The name for this doctrine stemmed from a 1984 court case, Chevron U.S.A, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council. In the Chevron case, the court established the doctrine that federal courts would defer to federal administrative agencies in interpretation of statutes passed by Congress. The Wikipedia entry goes on to say that the Chevron case was one of the most important case rulings on administrative law in American history, and has been cited in thousands of administrative law cases ever since. Ergo, the overturning of the Chevron Deference doctrine was clearly a big deal.

Or was it? In this post, law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds (aka the Instpundit), dismisses the argument that overturning the Chevron Deference doctrine is going to be a national trauma. Amongst the reasons for his belief in this is because the doctrine has been, in his words, dying a death by a thousand cuts. Also, Reynolds does remind readers that the U.S. Constitution seats all legislative power into the hands of Congress. Rather than leaving along the existing world, where Congress writes vast pieces of legislation, with many sections being vague and ambiguous, leaving the interpretation of such laws to the Executive branch agencies, the SCOTUS effectively placed the burden back on Congress where it should be. Do you have a part of the law where there is uncertainty? Then take the matter back to Congress and have Congress clarify what they meant, rather than having the hundreds of federal executive branch agencies deciding for themselves what Congress meant.

To put things another way – there is an argument that the Chevron Deference doctrine allowed Congress to abuse Americans through federal agencies. What? You suffered what problem because of a law we passed? Don’t blame us! We didn’t mean that! The problem was with how the agencies interpreted it! A law professor named David Schenbrod even wrote a book, Power without Responsibility, in which he argued this very idea – that thanks to Chevron Deference, Congress has passed a slew of laws it didn’t want to take responsibility for.

Now they will. That’s probably why a lot of people on the Left are flipping out over the ruling.

But what about the states and state laws?

It is clear to this educated layman that the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling pertain to the federal government. However, America was founded with a recognition that, although all power comes from the people, there are dual sovereign powers – those of the states in the union, and the federal government. With this recognition of dual sovereignty, however, has come accompanying debates over conflicts. Many of these conflicts such as conflicts between state and federal laws are resolved by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S.Constitution, stating that federal laws win out over state laws when they are in conflict. There are limits to federal power, however, in that the federal government cannot commandeer state governors and legislators into doing something they would otherwise not want to do. As to the question of to what degree the repealing of the Chevron Deference doctrine would mean to state laws, one can also point to the concept of incorporation. In incorporation, jurists at the state and federal level have held that the federal Bill of Rights also apply to state governments.

Okay, so far, so good. But what about the actions and conflicts between state agencies verses other parties, rather than federal agencies? That remains, to me, an open question. It is telling, however, that a bill, House Bill 1947, was submitted in the 2023 Texas Legislature. In it, State Representative Brian Harrison posited that state judges would not interpret a provision in Texas laws such that they would not defer to a state agency’s interpretation of state law. Regarding the fate of HB 1947, it was telling who the witnesses were, both for and against the bill, as to how much this mattered. It was also telling that the bill ended up being slow walked through the 2023 Legislature and bottled up by the Texas House in the Calendars committee, and not going any further.

So where does the the gutting of the Chevron Deference doctrine by the U.S. Supreme Court leave Texas laws and challenges to interpretation of Texas laws? Well, it wouldn’t be a bad thing in the wake of the Loper Bright Enterprises ruling for constitutionally minded activists to revisit the issue, and if it is found that the gutting of Chevron Deference does not apply to the states, to take steps to close that loophole to return legislative power (and accountability) to where it belongs: the Texas Legislature. It may be an obscure thing to do and easy to overlook and miss. Yet sometimes clearing up matters like this does matter.

1 Comment

  1. Neal, actually they didn’t QUITE dump everything back in congress’s lap. In actuality they dumped it into the judiciary’s lap to interpret these vague laws, just as the situation prior to Chevron was. Congress will not pick up that gauntlet unless it is forced to at gunpoint. Notable is that not a single member of the current court participated in that ruling. They have all been replaced since then. As to its applicability to state law, probably doesn’t apply. But even in the situations in which chevron led to bad precident, each and every one will have to work its way back up the judicial food chain to be ruled oon. This will take a very long time. So this ruling, while important, won’t change much immediately.

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