What is the Major Questions Doctrine?

Oct 06, 2023

The "major questions doctrine" is a legal principle that pertains to the interpretation and application of statutes and laws in the United States. This doctrine is also sometimes referred to as the "major questions rule."

In essence, the major questions doctrine suggests 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. Instead, the courts themselves should make the ultimate determination on such important matters.

The major questions doctrine is often invoked in cases where there is ambiguity in a statute, and the court must decide how to interpret and apply it. When the court believes that the statute's interpretation implicates significant questions of social, economic, or political importance, it may apply the major questions doctrine to exercise a higher degree of scrutiny and to ensure that the interpretation aligns with the intent of Congress.

One notable case where the major questions doctrine was discussed is the Supreme Court case of King v. Burwell (2015). In this case, the court had to determine whether certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) allowed for the payment of subsidies in states that did not establish their own healthcare exchanges. The court ultimately applied the major questions doctrine to uphold the availability of subsidies in all states, emphasizing the importance of the issue at hand and the potential consequences of its decision.

In summary, the major questions doctrine is a legal principle that guides courts in the United States when interpreting statutes, especially in cases involving significant policy questions. It suggests that courts should exercise heightened scrutiny and not automatically defer to administrative agencies or other government bodies when addressing major questions of law or policy.