Disturbing Oral Arguments Suggest Dark Turn for Supreme Court

Press Release

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Executive Power & Civil Liberties


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Carolyn Bobb
carolyn.bobb@afj.org
240-271-7069

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2024 – Today the Supreme Court held oral arguments in a pair of cases ostensibly about fishing boats but actually about the Court taking a huge power grab for itself. In discussing Relentless, Inc. v. Dept. of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc. v. Raimondo, the justices asked very few questions about whether the operators of fishing boats should have to pay for the regulators that monitor their fishing. Instead, the conservative justices were eager to give themselves control over policy instead of just the law.

At threat in the cases is the precedent known as Chevron deference, which says that when government agency experts make a decision, the courts should defer to that expertise. Justice Kagan shared a hypothetical of a disagreement about whether a cholesterol-lowering substance is a “dietary supplement” or a more-strictly regulated “drug.” Who decides? Chevron says the courts should defer to the experts at HHS. Conservative billionaire Charles Koch, who’s funding the case, is hoping the Court decides that judges get to decide. That would mean that for everything the government oversees, if anyone disagrees, it doesn’t matter if they are incorrect so long as they can convince a judge to agree with them.

The conservative justices appeared eager to toss Chevron and take control of such matters for themselves. The liberal justices, in turn, were outspoken and flummoxed by the idea that judges would have power over every policy disagreement brought forth.

Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement:

“Everyone understands that lawyers and judges have a limited role in our democracy: implementing and interpreting the law. But the extreme majority on this Supreme Court believes they should get to decide everything from what counts as pollution to what counts as a dietary supplement. In the age of misinformation, it’s downright terrifying to think that anyone can challenge the experts on any issue and win if they simply convince a judge.

“We know these conservative justices are already scraping the bottom of the barrel for legal justifications to impose their extreme agenda on our lives, and overturning Chevron would be the equivalent of crowning themselves kings. Today’s oral arguments are the latest alarm that we urgently need court reforms like an enforceable code of ethics and term limits to rein in the political power these justices are claiming for themselves.”

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