Let’s Be Brief: Amicus Briefs Submitted by Corporations Show Opposition to Chevron Deference
By Jessica Wong, Regulatory Policy Intern
We generally count on government regulation to ensure our health and safety, but such health and safety protections are now in jeopardy. The outcome of two pending Supreme Court cases, Loper Bright v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce, could overturn an important legal doctrine called Chevron deference. Public Citizen and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards recently published a report analyzing the 81 amicus briefs filed in these two cases. The report found that corporations, trade associations, and conservative nonprofits/legal organizations are the main opponents of Chevron deference. But before I discuss the report’s findings, let’s talk about what Chevron deference is and why it is so important for the Supreme Court to uphold it.
What is Chevron deference?
Chevron deference is a doctrine named for a 40-year-old Supreme Court case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The doctrine instructs judges, when considering legal challenges to agency action that a plaintiff claims is unauthorized by statute or in violation of a statute, to defer to the federal agency’s reasonable interpretation of the statute if the statute’s meaning is unclear. This doctrine acknowledges an agency’s expertise and authority with respect to the laws they are charged by Congress with implementing.
How is the doctrine applied?
Federal courts apply the doctrine through a two-step process:
- Judges first consider whether the meaning of the relevant statute is clear, looking to the statute’s text, context, and purpose. If the meaning is clear, then the court applies that clear meaning to decide whether the agency’s action was lawful.
- If the statute is ambiguous, the court then considers whether the agency’s interpretation is reasonable. If it is reasonable, the court turns to the agency’s interpretation.
Why is Chevron deference so important?
Federal regulations protect public health and safety, consumer protection, environmental protection, worker protections, and more. Chevron deference respects the agency's expertise about how best to implement statutes enacted to protect the public. Chevron deference respects the separation of powers by respecting agencies’ role as policymakers, and ensuring that policy is made by a branch of government accountable to the people.
The report’s findings
Reviewing the 81 amicus briefs, the report found that of the 259 entities and individuals that submitted briefs, 176 of them opposed Chevron deference and 83 of them supported Chevron deference. Further, of the 32 trade associations that submitted amicus briefs, 28 of them submitted amicus briefs in opposition to Chevron deference, while only 4 submitted amicus briefs in support of it. Unsurprisingly, the 28 trade associations that opposed Chevron primarily represented powerful corporations, while the 4 trade associations that supported Chevron are members of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards. Opposing Chevron is clearly linked to corporate engagement and representation.
Conclusion and next steps
Powerful corporations are pushing the Supreme Court to abandon Chevron deference in hopes of having a weaker regulatory system. However, it is the public that will suffer the consequences if they succeed, putting consumer, worker, and health and safety protections at risk. Regardless of the court’s decision, a critical next step is for Congress to pass the Stop Corporate Capture Act (H.R. 1507) to codify Chevron deference to ensure that this important doctrine is enshrined in law.