Brownstone » Brownstone Journal » Government » Chevron Deference Builds the Administrative State
Chevron Deference

Chevron Deference Builds the Administrative State


Those seeking to hold the FDA, CDC, NIH/NIAID, DoD and DHS accountable for injury caused by their gross mismanagement of the COVIDcrisis often attempt to turn to the Federal courts for legal redress. Unfortunately, in addition to the layered specific legal indemnification provided by the congressionally approved PREP act, CARES act and Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), since 1984 there has been a general legal position that the (unelected) third branch of government, the courts, will defer to the “expertise” of a fourth, unelected branch (the administrative state) and its permanent federal employees (embedded within the “elected” executive branch) when confronting a scientifically or technically controversial subject. 

The administrative state as well as its Senior Executive Service and GS-rank staff arrogantly and unconstitutionally consider themselves to be the permanent employees of the US Federal Government, and consider the elected officials tasked with funding, oversight and management of these agencies (Congresspersons and the POTUS) merely temporary employees. 

The Chevron Deference doctrine legal policy established by the Supreme Court in 1984 <what irony!> has become a keystone of US administrative law, and forms the legal basis which enables this extra-constitutional fourth branch of government. This decision has played a central role in enabling the explosion of administrative state power and authority seen since that legal decision. Subsequent to the majority opinion justifying the decision which underpins the “Chevron Deference” doctrine, the assertion by the Supreme Court that the administrative state represents an “elected” branch of government has become transparently absurd. 

Focusing back on the COVIDcrisis, what this means (in a practical sense) is that when there is a difference of opinion regarding science or technology issues between the “official” policy of a federal agency (the defendants) and someone or some group seeking to sue for legal redress consequent to damages caused by arbitrary and capricious actions of that agency or its personnel (the plaintiff(s)), then the courts will generally side with the federal agency. The underlying assumption being that federal agencies are always correct in their interpretation of scientific and technical issues and how they apply that interpretation to the statutory authority granted to them by Congress.

Diving deeper into the details, the specific legal basis for this position is the consequence of the 1984 Supreme Court decision involving the case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). The resolution and judicial activist majority opinion in this case established the parameters of the new legal doctrine requiring that the courts defer to the administrative state in matters involving interpretation of congressional statutes which it administers. 

My layperson understanding of all of this (acknowledging that I am not a lawyer) is that the Supreme Court, acting under a false assumption that the administrative state can be held accountable for its actions by the citizens of the United States via the POTUS electoral process, has determined that the courts must defer to the expertise and judgement of administrative state employees largely because federal judges are appointed rather than elected, and the top leadership of (executive branch) administrative agencies are appointed by the (elected) POTUS. 

Unfortunately, as President Trump discovered and President Biden has abundantly demonstrated, the tail wags the dog. The permanent employees of the executive branch federal agencies cannot be held accountable by the POTUS, because for all practical purposes they are not “at will” employees. They cannot be fired for performance and accountability issues without an extensive, multi-year legal battle. In today’s post 1984, post-modern United States Presidency, the administrative state bureaucracies control the POTUS, not the other way around. And authorized scientific/technical truth has become whatever these agencies find most convenient to support their agendas.

In other words, a prior activist Supreme Court meddled in the Constitutional balance of powers in favor of a federal agency, and this decision has been generalized across the entire administrative state. The blowback has been further development and an enormous increase in power in a fourth, non-constitutional branch of government which is commonly referred to as the permanent administrative state.

Buried within that administrative state is an unelected permanent shadow government commonly referred to as the “Deep State.” Furthermore, original Congressional authorization determined that the CIA and Director of National Intelligence owe primary allegiance and responsibility to defend and serve to the POTUS rather than to the US Constitution. This is similar to what happened in 27 BC when the Roman emperor Augustus enabled creation of a powerful permanent “Praetorian Guard.”

Akin to how the Roman guard eventually functioned, the CIA and associated “intelligence community” increasingly acts to select the POTUS which it wishes to place as the figurehead or frontperson for the shadowy permanent “Deep State” leadership which actually controls domestic and foreign US policy.

For further details on how all of this works to strengthen the administrative state and its employees at the expense of the authority of both Congress and POTUS, please see the prior Substack essay titled “The Invisible Power Controlling the US Government. How Trump’s “Schedule F” could have drained the swamp.” Additional background can be found in the Substack essay “What to do with a Problem like HHS? (Pt. 2, treating the disease). Unwinding entrenched administrative state agencies is hard, time consuming work.”

What is the Chevron Deference doctrine, how did the 1984 SCOTUS come to this decision, and what are the consequences?

Regarding details of the “Chevron Deference” doctrine, Wikipedia provides a balanced and fairly comprehensive summary of the issues, beginning with this introductory overview.

Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), was a landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court set forth the legal test for determining whether to grant deference to a government agency’s interpretation of a statute which it administers. The decision articulated a doctrine now known as “Chevron deference.” The doctrine consists of a two-part test applied by the court, when appropriate, that is highly deferential to government agencies: first, whether Congress has spoken directly to the precise issue at question, and second, “whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.”

The following are the key clauses and logic which underpins the SCOTUS justification for the “Chevron Deference.”

First, the SCOTUS determined that the US judiciary is not a political branch of government, and it emphasized that US federal judges are not elected officials.

When a challenge to an agency construction of a statutory provision, fairly conceptualized, really centers on the wisdom of the agency’s policy, rather than whether it is a reasonable choice within a gap left open by Congress, the challenge must fail. In such a case, federal judges—who have no constituency—have a duty to respect legitimate policy choices made by those who do. The responsibilities for assessing the wisdom of such policy choices and resolving the struggle between competing views of the public interest are not judicial ones ….

— Chevron, 467 U.S. at 866.

Then the Court reasoned that when Congress passes a law that contains an ambiguity, this represents an implicit congressional delegation of authority to the executive branch agency that implements the law. The Court then concluded that these delegations of power should limit a federal court’s review of the agency’s interpretation of the law.

The power of an administrative agency to administer a congressionally created program necessarily requires the formulation of policy and the making of rules to fill any gap left, implicitly or explicitly, by Congress. If Congress has explicitly left a gap for the agency to fill, there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific provision of the statute by regulation. Such legislative regulations are given controlling weight unless they are arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute. Sometimes the legislative delegation to an agency on a particular question is implicit rather than explicit. In such a case, a court may not substitute its own construction of a statutory provision for a reasonable interpretation made by the administrator of an agency.

— Chevron, 467 U.S. at 843–44 

Based on this reasoning, the SCOTUS majority opinion established a two-step analysis for federal courts to use when considering a challenge to an agency’s interpretation of a law.

First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. 

If, however, the court determines Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction on the statute . . . Rather, if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.

— Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842–43.

In other words, when Congress fails to do its job and create clear statutes, according to the Chevron Deference decision the administrative state has the authority to broadly interpret and exploit the ambiguities in Congressional authorization bills as it sees fit. 

Consequent to this decision we have seen the explosive rise of power of a fourth, unelected branch of government – the permanent administrative state, its elite unaccountable and unelected administrators (the Senior Executive Service), and its permanent Praetorian Guard (the CIA) which enjoys the benefit of a large “dark” classified budget and its very own independent venture capital fund (In-Q-Tel) which makes it functionally autonomous from oversight by the Citizens of the United States and their elected representatives.

From this, I hope that you can appreciate my point above that the 1984 “Chevron Deference” SCOTUS opinion is the keystone in the arch of current administrative law. And like a keystone, if the “Chevron Deference” were to be successfully challenged and significantly revised by SCOTUS (functionally pulling the keystone out of the arch), the power and integrity of the entire administrative state structure would be compromised and the strength of the unelected fourth branch of government may fall, thereby restoring balance between the remaining three (Constitutional) branches of government.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
For reprints, please set the canonical link back to the original Brownstone Institute Article and Author.


Donate Today

Your financial backing of Brownstone Institute goes to support writers, lawyers, scientists, economists, and other people of courage who have been professionally purged and displaced during the upheaval of our times. You can help get the truth out through their ongoing work.

Subscribe to Brownstone for More News

Stay Informed with Brownstone Institute