Robert Reich: What’s The ‘Chevron Doctrine,’ And Why Should You Want To Preserve It? – OpEd


The Supreme Court hears a pair of cases that could upend federal regulations designed to protect us. 

At risk is the Biden administration’s entire climate agenda. Also, the power of the government to approve and regulate drugs. Its power to stop employers from threatening the health and safety of workers. The safety and quality of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

The Supreme Court seems to have no problem regulating women’s bodies. But when it comes to regulating big business, it may be ready to end 40 years of established law. 

Let me explain.

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to something known as the “Chevron doctrine,” established by the court’s ruling in the 1984 case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. 

The Chevron case held that whenever a law is unclear, the federal agencies charged with implementing it should be able to interpret it — not the federal courts. 

This makes sense, because unlike courts, federal agencies are staffed with scientists, researchers, and engineers — actual experts in the fields they’re regulating. 

I spent five years at the Federal Trade Commission, supervising a team of economists and policy analysts who advised commissioners on how best to protect consumers and attack monopolies. 

But now, a pair of Supreme Court cases challenging the Chevron doctrine could strip federal agencies of this key role of interpreting and implementing our nation’s laws — and shift this power to the courts.

But here’s the problem, and it’s a huge one. If judges become the sole interpreters of the nation’s laws, a single right-wing judge, carefully selected by corporate plaintiffs, could invalidate all the regulations of a federal agency charged with protecting the public. 

No wonder big banks, fossil fuel companies, and pharmaceutical giants, who hate the power of federal agencies to limit their profits, have been trying for years to end the Chevron doctrine. And no wonder the two cases the Supreme Court will hear tomorrow have been selected and bankrolled by the Koch network to accomplish just this.

They think they have the votes on the Supreme Court to do it.

If agencies are stripped of their power to regulate, the big losers will be the American public. We need real experts tackling today’s complicated problems, not right-wing judges selected by corporate plaintiffs. 

It’s important to see the potential fall of the Chevron doctrine for what it is: a power grab by corporate interests, allowing them to shop for judges who will strip agencies of their power to protect the public. 

The right-wing strategy underlying tomorrow’s oral arguments is also consistent with the so-called “unitary executive theory,” which conservatives have been pushing since Reagan. 

That theory aims to centralize control over implementing all laws in the president, rather than independent agencies. Under this theory, even Congress cannot vest the power to make certain decisions in an agency rather than the president. Subscribe

Trump and his lackeys want to consolidate all power in a president who will be able to do whatever he pleases. That’s part of their plan to give all power to Trump. 

Shortly before the 2020 election, then-President Trump issued an executive order that sought to strip civil service protections from tens of thousands of career federal employees by reclassifying them as “Schedule F,” which would allow a president to fire or reassign them at will. President Biden rescinded this order before it was legally tested. 

In his current campaign for the presidency, Trump promises to issue this order and substitute political appointees for the civil service. 

When he was president, Trump also considered issuing an executive order requiring independent agencies that Congress insulated from presidential supervision — such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and even the Federal Reserve — to submit any new regulations to the White House for approval before issuing them. 

Were he to become president again, you can bet he’ll do this. 

Since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, regulatory agencies have protected the public from corporate harms. The only reason to end these protections is to give corporate America even higher profits by shifting the risks of harms to individual people. 

Watch your wallets.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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