In a case last month upholding religious liberty, Justice Neil Gorsuch announced that an old precedent had ceased to be good law: “This Court long ago abandoned Lemon.” One day the Supreme Court may issue a similarly belated death notice for Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the 1984 ruling that vastly expanded the power of administrative agencies. If so, the beginning of the end will have come on the closing day of this year’s term, when the high court decided West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency.
In Chevron, the justices held that when Congress enacts an “ambiguous” statute, courts are obliged to defer to any “reasonable” interpretation offered by an executive-branch agency. The Chevron doctrine assumes that agency personnel have expertise that judges lack and that agencies are more democratic than courts because the former answer to the president. Chevron deference allowed the EPA to set national carbon-dioxide standards, the Transportation Department to prescribe automobile safety features and numerous other agencies and departments to regulate virtually every aspect of American life.