Court supremacy: The Supreme Court appoints itself ultimate expert on governing

US Chief Justice John Roberts arrives before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

In an ideologically-split 6-3 ruling Friday, the Supreme Court overruled what’s known as Chevron deference, a longtime legal principle that held that when administrative statutes are not explicit, federal agencies have latitude to interpret them, particularly when it comes to regulations. It’s not a widely-known principle but has undergirded the functioning of government for more than 40 years.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the overturned presumption “is misguided because agencies have no special competence in resolving statutory ambiguities. Courts do.” In isolation, this might make sense. Interpreting statutes is the judiciary’s whole bread and butter. If and when things aren’t laid out explicitly and in detail, we need an arbiter to make a final decision.


But the courts have neither the ability nor knowledge to intervene in every case of ambiguity. The administration of a government the size and complexity of ours is not largely about resolving occasional broad statutory questions. Agencies all around the country rely on subject matter experts and career officials to make determinations about thousands of granular, often technical matters.

These determinations are in furtherance of enacting the goals of Congress, because it turns out that Congress itself does not remotely possess the capability to do this itself. Legislators are sent to Washington to represent the interests of their constituents, not to understand the proper storage conditions for biohazardous materials on commercial transport flights or the control group requirements for human trials of heart drugs under FDA consideration. For that matter, judges should not be the ones parsing these things, basically because they can’t.

On this Editorial Board, we do our best to dive into multiple areas of public policy and society, talking to experts and stakeholders to come up with informed opinions on everything from public transit to health delivery to immigration. We often disagree with certain policy decisions or their implementation; what we don’t do is believe that we have the capacity to overrule technical experts on the base-level facts.

Do you, reader, know what polyfluoroalkyl substances are? These “forever chemicals” didn’t exist a few decades ago, but increasing bodies of research show that these chemicals are now in the bloodstream of practically every human on Earth, and are toxic in various ways. The Environmental Protection Agency is now endeavoring to limit the use and production of these chemicals. Does this fall into the EPA’s regulatory authority? What’s the proper way to safeguard public health and the environment in this matter?

The query overlaid over all those others is: who should answer this question? Should it be medical doctors and PhDs in chemical engineering, or federal court judges, who will move even slower than internal agency deliberations?

Now multiply that by every issue in every agency and you start to see the problem. Chevron’s detractors always maintained that companies wouldn’t begin to frivolously challenge practically every regulation enacted upon them by agency experts. Now we’ll find out, and we might all have worse air, worse products, worse consumer and labor protections and worse medical outcomes for it.

— New York Daily News