The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a challenge to a regulation affecting fishing vessels that could result in the overturning of a 40-year precedent. The 1984 Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council ruling stated that when the language of a statute is ambiguous, federal agencies should be deferred to in their interpretations of the law. However, conservative groups and business interests have been attacking federal bureaucracy in what has been dubbed “the war on the administrative state”. The Supreme Court has taken up the challenge to the Chevron decision, which it has rarely invoked in recent years.
The Case Against the National Marine Fisheries Service
The Supreme Court will consider the case of Loper Bright Enterprises and several other operators of fishing vessels that are active in the herring fishery off the Atlantic coast, who challenged the 2020 rule that applies to New England fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal body that oversees ocean resources, issued the regulation that requires fishing vessels to help fund the collection of scientific data to assist with fishery conservation and management. The challengers say that the National Marine Fisheries Service did not have the authority to issue the regulation under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The rule requires vessel operators to pay up to $710 dollars a day at certain times for independent observers to board their vessels and monitor their operations, which operators say is a significant burden on small owner-operators.
The Attempt to Undermine Federal Agency Power
Lawyers for the fishing vessel operators argue that a lower court that upheld the rule gave too much deference to the federal agency in interpreting the 1976 law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the vessel operators’ claims in an August 2022 decision, upholding a similar ruling issued by a federal district court judge the previous year. The case, backed by conservative groups, is the latest attempt to undermine the power of federal agencies. The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is skeptical of broad assertions of federal agency power. Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is not participating in the case, having been part of the appeals court panel that decided the case before President Joe Biden appointed her to the high court. She heard oral arguments but was not involved in the ruling itself. The court could still rule in favor of the challengers by limiting the scope of the Chevron decision without overturning it entirely.
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