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Supreme Court urged to blunt power of federal regulators

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(The Center Square) — The Supreme Court is being asked to overturn a decades-old law giving federal regulators wide-ranging powers as it weighs a legal challenge by New Jersey commercial fishermen over new monitoring rules.

The high court is considering a lawsuit filed in 2020 by plaintiff Loper Bright Enterprises of New Jersey, challenging a rule requiring the industry to fund monitors to go out on commercial fishing vessels to collect data to craft new regulations. The fishermen argue the rules will force them to pay more than $700 per day to contractors, or about 20% of their pay.

But plaintiffs in the case say the dispute over federal monitors also provides an opportunity for the high court to blunt the powers of federal agencies by overturning the so-called Chevron deference.

“It’s a classic David versus Goliath story,” said Ryan Mulvey, an attorney with Cause of Action Institute representing commercial fishermen. “Chevron deference tips the scales of justice towards powerful federal agencies and away from citizens like the fishermen who are seeing their livelihoods threatened by a bureaucracy run amok.”

The legal doctrine stems from the Supreme Court’s 1984 ruling in Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council, in which the Supreme Court said judges should defer to federal agencies in “ambiguous situations” as long as its interpretation of a law is “reasonable.”

While the legal principle has been criticized by conservatives on the high court, including Justice Clarence Thomas, it has survived numerous legal challenges.

Fishing companies want the court to overrule Chevron, or clarify that when a law does not address “controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute,” and no deference is required.

But the case has also drawn interest from conservative groups that have long sought to soften the administrative state’s power by eliminating the legal doctrine.

“For decades, Chevron has distorted our system of government. It puts a thumb on the scales of justice at the expense of American citizens facing federal agencies in courts,” said Adi Dynar, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, who filed a brief supporting the lawsuit. “The Court should undo this sorry mistake and end Chevron deference once and for all.”

Observers say if the court overturns the Chevron doctrine, it could have wide-ranging implications for the Biden administration’s policies, particularly regarding climate change.

The National Marine Fisheries Service argues in court filings that the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and regional fisheries management programs require vessels to “carry” observers to collect data on fish stocks.

A U.S. District Court judge previously rejected the lawsuit, which a divided federal Appeals Court later upheld. But the commercial fishing groups filed a petition to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the case in May.

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