The Supreme Court will hear two major cases on Jan. 17 that both involve a request to overturn decades-old precedent that gives the federal government significant leeway in implementing rules and regulations.
The two challenges attack what is known as “Chevron deference” — a term of art lawyers gave to how courts have treated a 1984 ruling, which involved a fight between the energy giant and the Environmental Protection Agency and its environmental allies. The court, in a 6-3 ruling, said the EPA’s interpretation of a law was reasonable and that courts should defer to agency judgment in cases in which the law was ambiguous.
That deference significantly increased federal agencies’ power to impose regulations, critics say.
The cases going before the justices on Jan. 17 are titled Relentless Inc. v U.S. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo. Both were brought by fishermen who say a federal rule requiring the industry to pay for federal observers aboard their boats is unlawful and inflicts financial harm on fishermen.
They claim the National Marine Fisheries Service has run amok with a plan to charge fishing vessels as much as $700 a day to hire a monitor to police their catch. The fishermen lost in the federal appeals courts and brought the legal battle before the high court.
It took at least four justices to vote in favor of hearing the disputes.
The cases have the potential of upsetting the 1984 precedent.
Supporters of the Chevron decision say the precedent blazed a path to good government, putting the experts at federal agencies in charge of the finer points of policymaking.
Critics say Chevron is the stuff of Orwellian dystopias, siphoning massive amounts of political power away from Congress and the courts and turning it over to unelected and usually anonymous bureaucrats.
The case has become legendary, less for what it said than the way it has been used by some lower courts — particularly the appeals court in Washington that handles so many agency cases — to create a presumption in favor of an agency’s decisions.
Although the justices will hear the disputes on Jan. 17, a decision is not expected until the end of June when the high court wraps up its term.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this story.