The “Chevron deference or doctrine” that bit the dust last week when the Supreme Court nixed it means courts will no longer defer to federal agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous laws. It is not the end of federal regulations. It does make them more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Since 1984, “Chevron” has been one of the cornerstones of federal administrative law, which was used to make regulations.

“Chevron deference” came on the scene with the landmark case, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 468 U.S. 837 (1984). “Chevron deference” refers to when judicial deference is given to administrative actions. 

In the original Chevron case, the Supreme Court set forth a legal test for when the court should defer an agency’s answer or interpretation, holding that such judicial deference is appropriate where the agency’s answer was not unreasonable. The deference could only be used where Congress was silent on the issue.

And yes, Chevron’s passing will impact federal food safety regulations from the Food and Drug Administration, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and another dozen federal agencies that have some role in food safety.

Alexandra Grose, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, said the “decision by the Supreme Court is anti-consumer and threatens countless health, safety, environmental, and market safeguards that protect Americans every day.”

“The Court’s ruling could have far-reaching impacts across the federal government, encouraging corporations to attack sensible rules and leaving it up to individual judges – with their individual policy preferences – to implement the details of laws passed by Congress, rather than entrusting that role to highly trained subject matter experts, “ Gross added.

“Congress charged federal agencies with protecting consumers from threats like contaminated food, hazardous products, dirty air and water, and predatory financial schemes. It should act quickly and thoughtfully to pass legislation to ensure federal agencies have the necessary discretion. Congress can’t foresee or respond to every eventuality, and agency experts must ensure – consistent with the law – that federal rules reflect the realities of the marketplace and keep up with changing times.”

Consumer Reports viewed the Supreme Court’s decision as undermining a critical layer of consumer protection by granting statutory discretion to judges rather than agency subject matter experts.

The Chevron doctrine limited federal court judges from substituting their interpretation of a statute for a reasonable interpretation made by the administrative agency.

When a statute is silent or ambiguous regarding a specific issue, a court under Chevron must decide whether the agency’s action was based on a permissible construction of the statute. 

Some say, “Chevron has been dying for years.” Since 1984, its scope has been narrowed. Only agency interpretations resulting from formal proceedings have been qualified for deference. In contrast, those contained in opinion letters, policy statements, agency manuals, or other formats that do not carry the force of law were not given  Chevron deference. 

The Supreme Court overturned the Chevron doctrine in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, 2024, with a 6-3 majority finding that it was inconsistent with the federal Administrative Procedures Act and gave undue authority to unelected government officials. 

Writing for the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)