Could This Supreme Court Case End Government Overreach By Three-Letter Agencies?

Submitted by Gun Owners of America,

What do fishing, Three Letter Agencies, and gun rights all have in common?

Well, thanks to a little-known case called Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, commercial fishing and gun rights are intrinsically tied together. The outcome of this case could change the legal landscape of the entire country when it comes to the ability of three-letter agencies such as ATF to make regulations.

To understand the scope and effect of the Raimondo case, we’ll need to first look at two different things. The first is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The second is a legal principle called Chevron Deference.

Let’s start with the Fishery Act, as that’s the basis for this case.

In 1976, Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act into law. The law provides for the management of marine fisheries in US waters.

The MSA was enacted to assert control over foreign fisheries that were operating within 200 miles of the US coast. However, a provision of the law is that the National Marine Fisheries Service may require private fishing boats to carry federal monitors on board to enforce the agency’s regulations.

This is where the problems start.

In the years since the passage of the MSA, the budget for the National Marine Fisheries Service started to fall, but the need for monitor coverage was growing. The Fisheries service was put in a bind. They couldn’t afford to pay for the increased coverage needed to maintain their surveys and studies.

Well, to fix the problem, they did what all Government agencies seem to do these days: administrative rulemaking.

In doing so, they identified an area in the law that did not explicitly say that the government couldn’t make the private companies pay the salaries of the federal monitors. 

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So, in February 2020, the National Marine Fisheries Service published its final rule establishing a standardized process that would require industry-funded monitoring.

In response, Loper Bright Enterprises, a family-owned herring fishing company, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States District Court for the District of Colombia.

Loper Bright’s argument was that the Magnuson-Stevens Act did not authorize the Fisheries Service to force private companies to pay federal monitors.

You’d think that the Court would see this and agree with Loper Bright. Well, you’d be wrong. The Court sided with the National Marine Fisheries Service by using a legal doctrine called Chevron Deference.

So, what’s the Chevron Deference?

The Chevron in Chevron Deference refers to a landmark 1984 decision in Chevron USA Inc. v. National Resources Defense Council Inc. 

Chevron is considered to be one of the most important decisions in US administrative law. It has been cited in thousands of cases since the decision.

But how does it work?

If a law is ambiguous, Chevron’s doctrine requires the court to evaluate if the agency’s interpretation of the law is reasonable or permissible. If the agency’s interpretation is deemed to be reasonable or permissible, the court must accept the agency’s interpretation of the law.

In practice, administrative agencies like ATF can essentially govern as lawmakers. They create “rules” and “regulations” based on existing law, then use Chevron to affirm their rule change as “reasonable.”

Administrative agencies face fewer steps in rulemaking, sometimes only involving those inside the current administration. In the case of bump stocks—which is an attachment for a rifle—the reversal of agency policy was not the result of any new factual findings or thoughtful re-examination of the statute, but instead was ordered by one person—President Trump.

Even when agencies don’t apply Chevron to their argument, sometimes Judges will do it anyway, because it allows them to defer to an authority instead of making a decision, taking the easy way out of complex cases.

But it goes deeper. Chevron has seriously distorted how the political branches operate. Thanks to Chevron, Congress does less, and the executive branch does more, as Congress can count on the executive branch to tackle controversial issues via executive orders without the need for compromise.

This creates a dynamic where the “law” on important and divisive issues radically changes with every presidential administration. 

For example, the Chevron doctrine is what “allows” the ATF to claim that pistol braces are legal for years, then, on a dime, suddenly change course and change the legal status of 40 million pistols overnight.

There’s a reason that GOA has submitted an amicus curiae supporting Loper Bright. 

So, back to the case at hand. By using Chevron, the lower court in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo determined that the Fisheries Service “reasonably interpreted the law” as there was no clear language about the cost of at sea monitoring in the law.

On Nov. 10, 2022, Loper Bright petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case. In the petition, Loper Bright asked two questions. The first asked the court to rule on whether the lower court properly applied Chevron when granting the Fisheries Service the power to force private enterprises to pay for monitors.

Secondly, they asked the court to rule on whether Chevron should be overruled outright or limited in scope.

The Supreme Court granted the petition but limited it to only the Second question.

Seems like the Supreme Court may have an issue with Chevron.

This is evidenced in 2022 when Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Chevron deserves a tombstone no one can miss.”

Justice Clarance Thomas has said similar things as well. In 2015, Thomas wrote that Chevron “wrestles from courts the ultimate interpretive authority to ‘say what law is’ and hands it over to the executive branch.”

Interestingly, Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson heard the case at the circuit level right before being nominated to replace Justice Steven Breyer on the Supreme Court. She has recused herself from the case accordingly.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the oral arguments, but it looks like the Supreme Court might actually be ready to put Chevron to bed.

Watch: What do fishing, Three Letter Agencies, and gun rights all have in common?

This case is important not just for gun owners but anyone who’s been a victim of federal overreach.

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