2 Rare Fish Cases Challenge Health Agencies Power



Federal regulations implemented by administrative agencies provide important health and safety protections for Americans. However, these regulations are now under threat due to private sector lawsuits and two pending Supreme Court cases involving the National Marine Fisheries Service’s authority to require commercial fishing boats to carry third-party monitors. If the Supreme Court undermines the principle of deference to agency interpretations of regulations (known as “Chevron deference”), this could destabilize public health programs, insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and environmental measures, essentially shifting decision-making power from health and safety experts to lay judges.

Federal regulatory agencies’ authority threatened

Federal regulation by administrative agencies plays a crucial role in maintaining American health and safety. However, interest groups backed by major private sector financing are working to undermine this authority through litigation. The Supreme Court now faces two cases that could significantly alter the interpretation and implementation of the agencies’ empowered statutes.

Significant court cases overview

The cases in question, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, involve a statute that allows the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to enforce conservation laws using third-party monitors on commercial fishing boats. The NMFS interpretation has been upheld in lower courts thanks to “Chevron deference,” a principle from a highly cited Supreme Court case.

Understanding Chevron deference

Chevron deference allows administrative agencies to interpret ambiguous statutes, recognizing their superior expertise over lay judges in technical issues. It respects Congress’ delegation of authority through broad statutes and allows agencies to adapt to societal trends and health emergencies. However, Loper Bright and Relentless argue that it oversteps the judiciary’s role in statute interpretation and violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

Potential impact of Supreme Court decisions

Oral arguments for these cases were heard on January 17, and a conservative super-majority appears ready to discard or severely limit Chevron. Overturning Chevron could devastate administrative agencies, impede progress toward health and safety goals, and potentially destabilize the entire healthcare system.

Further repercussions

Reversing Chevron could also undermine numerous judicial decisions and expose them to new challenges. This is especially worrying as the Supreme Court is also set to decide the appropriate timeframe for challenging a federal regulatory action in Corner Post, Inc. v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Efforts toward deregulation

The attack on Chevron is part of a targeted deregulatory effort through the courts, backed by a conservative Supreme Court super-majority. This combined with the uncertainty created by the major questions doctrine could further impede public health regulation, investment in health infrastructure, and efforts to build a robust health system.

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