Supreme Court Chips Away At Federal Agency Power

Reuters - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday constrained the power of federal agencies, scaling back a legal doctrine that calls for judges to give agencies deference to interpret their own rules but declining to eliminate it as four conservative justices wanted.

The court, in a ruling written by liberal Justice Elena Kagan, unanimously sided with a Vietnam War veteran who sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after being denied retroactive disability benefits. But the justices split 5-4 in deciding not to entirely throw out the legal doctrine called “Auer deference,” which is rooted in Supreme Court precedents dating back to 1945.

“So the doctrine emerges maimed and enfeebled - in truth, zombified,” wrote conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had wanted to terminate Auer deference.

Paring back the regulatory authority of federal agencies - which can control rules in important areas such as energy, climate change and the workplace - has been a key goal of many business and conservative groups, which complain about what they call the “administrative state.”

The new limits on Auer deference could constrict administrative agencies from issuing or maintaining certain policies and rules.


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