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Supreme Court delivers blow to power of federal agencies, overturning 40-year-old precedent

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday overturned a 40-year-old precedent that has been a target of the right because it is seen as bolstering the power of “deep state” bureaucrats.

In a ruling involving a challenge to a fisheries regulation, the court consigned to history a 1984 ruling called Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. That decision had said judges should defer to federal agencies in interpreting the law when the language of a statute is ambiguous, thereby giving regulatory flexibility to bureaucrats.

It is the latest in a series of rulings in which the conservative justices have taken aim at the power of federal agencies, including one on Thursday involving in-house Securities and Exchange Commission adjudications. The ruling was 6-3, with the conservative justices in the majority and liberal justices dissenting.

“Chevron is overruled,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

He said that the ruling does not cast into doubt prior cases that relied on the precedent, but going forward lower courts “may not defer to an agency interpretation of the law simply because a statute is ambiguous.”

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent that a “longstanding precedent at the crux of administrative governance thus falls victim to a bald assertion of judicial authority.”

The ruling would hobble agencies with specialized scientific knowledge that will now be second-guessed by federal judges, she said.

“It puts courts at the apex of the administrative process as to every conceivable subject — because there are always gaps and ambiguities in regulatory statutes, and often

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