“By handing policy decisions usually deliberated over by experts to lower level judges, the Supreme Court has set off a seismic political shift that primarily serves only the most powerful corporate interests.”

Bu Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority delivered corporate polluters, anti-abortion campaigners, and other right-wing interests a major victory Friday by overturning the so-called Chevron doctrine, a deeply engrained legal precedent whose demise could spell disaster for public health and the climate.

The high court’s 6-3 ruling along ideological lines in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce significantly constrains the regulatory authority of federal agencies tasked with crafting rules on a range of critical matters, from worker protection to the climate to drug safety.

The majority’s decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

“The weight of human suffering likely to arise from this decision should keep the justices up at night,” said Emily Peterson-Cassin of Demand Progress, a watchdog group that called the decision “a gift to corporate greed.”

“The Supreme Court is threatening safeguards that protect hundreds of millions of people from unsafe products, bad medicines, dangerous chemicals, illegal scams, and more,” Peterson-Cassin added. “By handing policy decisions usually deliberated over by experts to lower level judges, the Supreme Court has set off a seismic political shift that primarily serves only the most powerful corporate interests.”

Stand Up America executive director Christina Harvey issued a similarly stark warning: “Make no mistake—more people will get sick, injured, or die as a result of today’s decision. Some ramifications of this decision won’t be felt for decades, but they will be felt.”

The Chevron doctrine, which stemmed from the high court’s 1984 ruling in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, held that judges should defer to federal agencies’ reasonable interpretation of a law if Congress has not specifically addressed the issue.

In her dissent, liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the consequences of upending Chevron could be vast given that it underpinned “thousands of judicial decisions” and has “become part of the warp and woof of modern government, supporting regulatory efforts of all kinds—to name a few, keeping air and water clean, food and drugs safe, and financial markets honest.”

Kagan noted that unlike the Supreme Court, federal agencies are staffed with experts that should be granted deference to interpret ambiguities in laws written by Congress, which “knows that it does not—in fact cannot—write perfectly complete regulatory statutes.”

“When does an alpha amino acid polymer qualify as a ‘protein’?” Kagan asked. “I don’t know many judges who would feel confident resolving that issue… But the [Food and Drug Administration] likely has scores of scientists on staff who can think intelligently about it, maybe collaborate with each other on its finer points, and arrive at a sensible answer.”

By overturning the Chevron doctrine, the liberal justice wrote, the Supreme Court’s majority demonstrated that it “disdains restraint, and grasps for power.”

An array of right-wing and industry organizations—including groups with ties to the Koch network and Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo—pushed the Supreme Court to scrap the Chevron doctrine, and Friday’s decision could embolden separate legal challenges.

“Anti-abortion activists are celebrating the ruling as a big win for their plans to further restrict medication abortion,” The New York Timesreported Friday, citing a strategist for Students for Life who said that “getting rid of Chevron is the first domino to fall.”

“They see the decision as a new precedent that can work in their favor as they seek to bring another case against the Food and Drug Administration to the Supreme Court, which rejected their bid to undo the FDA’s approval of the drug earlier in June,” the Times added.

Climate advocates warned the ruling could also be devastating for the planet, potentially hamstringing the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments as they attempt to rein in planet-warming pollution using existing law. The American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s largest lobbying group, celebrated Friday’s ruling as environmentalists voiced dismay.

“Today’s reckless but unsurprising decision from this far-right court is a triumph for corporate polluters that seek to dismantle commonsense regulations protecting clean air, clean water, and a livable climate future,” said Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “This decision brings into sharp relief the critical importance of electing presidents who will appoint Supreme Court justices guided by science and sound legal precedent.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that Friday’s ruling “by an extremist Supreme Court eviscerates four decades of legal precedent that protects Americans’ rights to clean air and water, safe workplaces, and healthcare by preventing the dedicated civil-servant experts who staff our federal agencies from implementing the laws enacted by Congress.”

“That is why Congress must immediately pass my Stop Corporate Capture Act, the only bill that codifies Chevron deference, strengthens the federal-agency rulemaking process, and ensures that rulemaking is guided by the public interest–not what’s good for wealthy corporations,” said Jayapal. “Make no mistake: this is the outcome of a multi-decade crusade by big business and right-wing extremists to gut federal agencies tasked with protecting Americans’ health and safety to instead benefit corporations aiming to dismantle regulations and boost their profits.”


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