Pennsylvania Supreme Court Does Not Share Ideological Divide in SCOTUS Chevron Decision

Recently, the United States Supreme Court in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo AND Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce (Together, Loper Light) overthrew what is commonly called “Chevron doctrine.” The doctrine is a judge-made legal principle adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court 40 years ago that required federal courts to defer to federal agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous statutes and regulations passed by Congress.

The idea behind the doctrine was that federal agencies would be governed by subject matter experts who were better equipped to administer, enforce, and, more importantly, interpret the laws of Congress than unelected federal judges who had little, if any, expertise or understanding of the nuances and intricacies of the complicated problems (or scientific terminology) the agencies were tasked with addressing.

However, recent commentary by some prominent legal analysts and experts in the country, including Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post to Adam Liptak in New York Timesare overly simplified and somewhat misleading depictions of a broader ideological divide in favor of or in opposition to ChevronThe commentary suggests that there are lasting ideological camps on both sides of the conflict. Chevron National Debate — Republican and Conservative Lawyers OpposeChevron respect, while democratic and liberal lawyers are supportersChevron respect.

This Chevron The question is, like many issues of constitutional and administrative law, much more nuanced than national commentators and pundits would have us believe. While opponents federal judicial respect federal agencies have become more conservative over the past 20 years, “states where courts have applied to them a standard of deference [state] the agency’s expertise has diverse ideological and political majorities.”

The U.S. Supreme Court reverses a precedent that authorized federal agencies

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is one example where time-honored ideological and political divisions do not align with the majority and dissenting opinions of the United States Supreme Court. Loper LightThe state high court “never explicitly stated that adopted federal Chevron “approach,” but the court also acknowledged that the federal Chevron version “is indistinguishable With [Pennsylvania’s] own approach to agency interpretation [Pennsylvania] statutes”. Part of the reason for the lack of agreement in theory and practice is that Chevron this doctrine applied primarily to federal courts and federal agencies. State courts and state agencies, such as Commonwealth Court or Department of Environmental Protectionhave always had the independence to deviate from or approach Chevron doctrine as a matter of state constitutional and administrative law.

It is protected to say that the doctrine used by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review decisions of state agencies is:rooted in federal precedents” and “strictly grounded “based on prior federal rulings.” But even in delicate of the state Supreme Court’s historic conduct Chevron– the judges voluntarily differ in their positions on the doctrine in terms of ideology and party, which does not coincide with the time-honored camps at the federal level.

In 2019, Judge Christine Donohue, an elected Democrat and liberal-leaning lawyer who believes the state constitutional Equal Rights Amendment includes the right to abortionhe said in an accompanying opinion in Harmon v. Unemployment Compensation Board Review, “I write separately to express my disagreement with the Majority’s discussion of administrative deference.” She explained: “In my view, while an administrative agency’s interpretation of a statute is one of many factors a court may consider in interpreting an ambiguous statute, it is not entitled to any deference in the interpretive process.”

She stated that her position was “consistent with the fundamental principle that the interpretation of statutes is a question of law which must be decided by reviewing courts…[a]“administrative agencies, unlike courts, have no special expertise in statutory interpretation, and I reject any rule of interpretation that would require courts to relinquish our judicial role to administrative agencies…” Her writing could easily be confused with the opinion of Republican-appointed, center-right Chief Justice John Roberts in his Loper Light judgment annulling Chevronwhere is he explained courts “to decide legal questions using his own judgment” and interpretations of statutes by federal agenciesIf NO having the right to respect.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court, July 2024 (Jen Barker Worley/ Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts)

Judge David Wecht is another Democrat and liberal-leaning jurist on the state court who, like Judge Donohue, believes that the Pennsylvania Constitution establishes the right to abortion. He wrote a concurring opinion in which he presented a similar anti-Chevron position. He recorded“As I have already explained, I do not agree that courts of appeal should often show unconditional submission, i.e. Chevron deference to an executive branch agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute.”

If the law is unclear, he wrote in Snyder Bros., Inc. v. Pa. Publication Util. Comm’n“We must fulfill our interpretive duty.” Justice Wecht’s position is consistent with the majority opinion of Chief Justice Roberts in the case Loper Lightbut it also reflects Justice Clarence Thomas’s companion opinion supporting the reversal of the ruling ChevronJudge Thomas explained that Chevronmust be finally repealed“and that the doctrine erroneously required lawyers to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous provision, thereby depriving judges of their constitutional duty to interpret statutory provisions when reviewing federal statutes in the context of agency actions.

The slow Chief Justice Max Baer, ​​a Democratic-appointed jurist who played a key role in liberally interpreting the state constitution’s free and equal suffrage clause extend the right to vote extending the deadline for submitting postal votes in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election in the face of an unprecedented pandemic — was quite skeptical Chevron. IN 2007wrote: “Although I agree that the Secretary [of Education] enjoys great freedom in administration [Education Empowerment Act]I do not believe that… administrative interpretations presented for the first time in connection with the dispute proceedings have greater weight than the arguments of other parties to the dispute[.]”

He then ruled that the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States Chevron views then began to evolve and recognize “the dangers of procrastination Down [agency] “interpretations developed” in the course of legal proceedings.

Like Justices Wecht and Donohue, Baer’s position on the matter Chevron writes more like Judge Neil Gorsuch, a conservative jurist appointed by Trump, who argued in his accompanying opinion in Runner Bright that the burden of agency interpretation cannot outweigh the long-established principle that courts must exercise their independent judgment in considering statutory and regulatory provisions rather than deferring to those interpretations, either at the litigation or rulemaking stages, on the basis of the agency’s alleged expertise.

Let’s actually compare the views of Democratic-liberal state judges on Chevron with their Republican-Conservative counterparts in the state.

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, a conservative Republican, was a staunch defender Chevron-like respect. He believed that “some consideration“the role of statutory interpretation by state agencies should be recognized. Drawing on U.S. Supreme Court precedents, Justice Saylor noted that “deference is due [agency]”and that it is well established that”[a]the interpretation made by the body responsible for administering a given law is the usual respect shown“unless it is clearly wrong.”

Judge Sallie Updyke Mundy, a Republican judge, argued for Chevron– as respect and agreed with the position of former Chief Justice Saylor Chevron. She wrote in her Harmony objection that it is “All right[-]settled in” the law that an agency’s interpretation of a statute or regulation in applying a particular law “is ordinarily given deference” and that a court should “exert deference” in the case before it.

The views of these conservative Republican state attorneys are consistent with Loper Light dissenting opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, known as the liberal wing of the U.S. Supreme Court. In defining who decides what ambiguous words enacted by Congress mean, Justice Kagan argued that “the choice should ordinarily fall into the hands of the agency, and the courts mostly adjourn Down [the agencies’] “judgments.”

The point is not to remake Justices Wecht, Donohue, and Baer into closet Republican-conservative justices like Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Gorsuch, nor is it to portray Justices Mundy and Saylor as liberal stalwarts like Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Jackson. Far from it.

Instead, we should be careful not to make ideological generalizations about all major U.S. Supreme Court decisions as indicative of the broader views and positions of other American legal institutions. The ideological and partisan composition of state courts does not always share or align with the ideological makeup of every U.S. Supreme Court decision, nor should it. Repeal Chevron is a stark reminder of this reality

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