What is the Chevron Doctrine

Oct 06, 2023

The Chevron doctrine, also known as Chevron deference or the Chevron test, is a U.S. legal principle that deals with how courts should review and defer to administrative agencies' interpretations of statutes. It stems from a landmark Supreme Court case, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., decided in 1984.

The Chevron doctrine establishes a two-step framework for reviewing agency actions:

Step One: In the first step, the court must determine whether the statute in question is clear and unambiguous. If the court finds that the statute's meaning is clear and there is no ambiguity, then the court will not defer to the agency's interpretation and will apply the statute's plain language.

Step Two: If the court determines that the statute is ambiguous or unclear, it proceeds to the second step. In this step, the court defers to the agency's interpretation as long as it is a reasonable interpretation of the statute. The court does not substitute its judgment for that of the agency but instead gives deference to the agency's expertise in the subject matter.

The Chevron doctrine is based on the idea that administrative agencies have specialized knowledge and expertise in the areas they regulate, and Congress intends for these agencies to make policy decisions within the scope of the statutes they administer. Therefore, courts should generally defer to an agency's interpretation of an ambiguous statute unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or clearly contrary to the statute's purpose.

Chevron deference has been the subject of legal and academic debate, with some arguing that it grants too much power to administrative agencies, while others contend that it is a necessary tool for effective governance and regulatory enforcement.

The application and scope of Chevron deference can vary depending on the specific facts and legal issues in a given case, and there have been discussions about potential limitations or modifications to the Chevron doctrine in recent years under the Major Questions Doctrine, which holds that when courts are tasked with interpreting a statute or law, they should be cautious about deferring to administrative agencies or other governmental bodies when the issue at hand involves a major or significant policy question.