Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. v. Gina Raimondo
The Supreme Court Takes the Case to Consider the Future of Chevron
“Nobody in a family business wants to be the last one to do it, everyone wants to pass it along, and my fear is I might not be able to.”
Stefan Axelsson | Third generation commercial fisherman
The petitioners in the Loper Bright case are a group of herring fishermen from Cape May, New Jersey. They embody the classic American story: small businesses built from scratch that have grown into decades-old, family-run operations. Over time, they have become cornerstones of their community by virtue of their unwavering commitment to providing high-quality, ethically fished seafood at accessible prices. But now, they face a looming threat that could put them out of the herring business.
For the past 30 years, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) has given the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the authority to require monitors on commercial fishing boats. These monitors are intended to ensure that the fishermen adhere to ethical fishing practices, as mandated by NOAA.
The MSA explicitly requires the owners of certain classes of fishing boats to pay for their own monitors. However, the MSA does not specify who is responsible for paying the cost of the monitors on the herring boats used by the fishermen. The fact that the Act explicitly says certain classes of boats must pay for their own monitors but does not include herring boats on that list makes clear that Congress did not intend for herring fishermen to pay for their own monitors. And for many years, NOAA agreed with that interpretation, paying for herring boat monitors themselves. During that period, the fishermen – who are all deeply committed to promoting sustainable fishing practices – were happy to host the monitors on their boats. But then, something changed, putting the fishermen’s livelihoods at risk.
The issue began when the government recently ran out of money to pay for certain at-sea monitoring programs. Instead of asking Congress for more money, NOAA suddenly decided that the herring fishermen must now pay for the cost of third-party monitors. These monitors are paid more than $700 per day per ship, which can be as much as 20% of a ship’s daily take home pay and is frequently more than the ships’ captains make. The cost for the monitors presents a huge burden that could easily drive these fishermen out of the herring business – which is why they brought a federal lawsuit seeking a ruling that they were not responsible for paying the cost of the monitors.
However, due to a legal doctrine called Chevron, which was established in a 1984 Supreme Court case, when a law is ambiguous or silent about what is required in a specific situation, federal courts must defer to regulatory agencies like the NOAA and their interpretation of the law in question. In other words, when the Chevron doctrine applies, federal courts are not engaging in their constitutionally mandated role of deciding the meaning of laws and regulations. And because the MSA is silent about who is responsible for paying herring boat monitors, lower courts have been forced to reject the Petitioners’ legal efforts to challenge these monitoring costs and NOAA’s authority to impose them, even if they agree with the fishermen in principle.
As a result, several of the affected fishermen – represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and the Cause of Action Institute – successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review their case and the specific issue of whether the Chevron doctrine should continue to be applied by federal courts in situations like this. The case will be heard later this year.
“[D]eferring to agencies on the meaning of the statutes they administer disproportionately injures individuals, families, small business, and communities in ways that Congress, accountable to the people, would never have accepted.”
– Amicus Brief filed by David Goethel, Board Member for the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, and John Haran, Sector Manager at XIII Northeast Fishery Sector, Inc.
The Bigger Picture & Why it Matters
Chevron strips Congress and the federal courts of their constitutionally delegated roles to, respectively, make and interpret laws. What’s more, it creates situations in which unelected officials who run federal agencies have the enormous power to interpret the laws they enforce, which is a blatant violation of the constitutionally mandated separation of powers that is meant to ensure no one branch of government has unilateral authority.
This case is about restoring the balance of power between the three branches of government, as required by the Constitution. This is a non-partisan issue – allowing administrative agencies to make and enforce their own interpretations of laws leaves all citizens at the whim of unelected and politically motivated officials whose agendas often change depending on which party is in the White House. This has happened during every administration since the 1984 Chevron decision and will continue to happen if the doctrine remains in place, resulting in extreme, unfair and often punitive ends.
This case provides the opportunity to do right by the fishermen – and all Americans – by restoring the legal framework put in place by the authors of the Constitution.
Stefan is a third-generation commercial fisherman. He was born and raised in Cape May, NJ. His daughter loves fishing, and he hopes she will take over the family business someday.
Bill is a first-generation fisherman who has been fishing for 40 years. He has grown his business into a family affair, employing the help of his two sons, two daughters and wife.
Wayne Reichle is a third generation Cape May fisherman and the President of Lunds’ Fisheries, where he has been working for 30 years. Lunds employs over 200 employees across fishing industry jobs.
In The News
Overruling Chevron would restore justice and constitutional checks and balances among the three branches of government.
The Supreme Court has an opportunity to correct one of the most consequential judicial errors in a generation.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the case, please reach out.
View and read all related documents to the Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. vs. Gina Raimondo case.