March 17, 2017 — At most Supreme Court confirmation hearings, questions focus on hot-button social issues — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage — and the hearings next week on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will be no exception.
But senators are also likely to spend a lot of time examining the nominee’s views on federal regulations — of the environment, health and safety laws for workers, and laws on consumer rights and business.
In question is a doctrine that Gorsuch has criticized but that also once helped his mother.
The Chevron doctrine
The Chevron decision is perhaps the most cited case in American law. Decided unanimously in 1984, it established a general rule of deferring to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of a statute.
The idea is that in passing a law, Congress sets out broad provisions and tells agencies that have considerable expertise to establish rules for carrying out the law’s mandates. In short, the agency is to fill in the details.
The Chevron case stems from the Reagan administration. When President Ronald Reagan took office in the early 1980s, the White House adopted more permissive rules for air pollution caused by manufacturing plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Environmental Protection Agency, then under the leadership of Anne Gorsuch, contending the agency had exceeded its authority.