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Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Leaves a Legacy

Published:  July 19, 2019

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens passed away on Tuesday at the age of 99. Justice Stevens served on the Supreme Court for nearly thirty-five years, and over that time, he authored several landmark decisions. Among the most influential decisions authored by Stevens was his opinion on behalf of the unanimous Court in Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., which introduced the concept of “Chevron Deference.” “Chevron Deference” is the legal principle that, if a statutory or regulatory scheme endows an administrative agency with the responsibility to administer the particular statute, courts should defer to the agency’s interpretation of that law, so long as it is a ‘permissible construction of the statute.’

If a statute delegates regulatory functions to the particular agency, that agency generally must interpret the statute to determine what it is required and permitted to do. However, the agency’s interpretation of the statutes, or their actions based on that interpretation, is often challenged. Based on the principle of “Chevron Deference,” courts must defer to that agency’s interpretation of that statute, so long as the interpretation does not conflict with the expressed intent of the legislature. Typically, statutes do not, and frankly cannot, address every possible application or permutation of circumstances. Consequently, laws are often silent on a specific issue being litigated. In these instances, “Chevron Deference” will usually apply, and the court will defer to the agency’s interpretation. Many states have recognized similar doctrines in relation to state law.

Although employers may not be familiar with the concept of “Chevron Deference,” it has a huge impact on them. Most employment laws are administered by state or federal agencies, such as the US Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Labor Relations Board, etc. Generally, these agencies are entitled to “Chevron Deference” in relation to the laws which they administer.

As mentioned earlier, most statutes leave a lot of questions unanswered. This means that “Chevron Deference” plays a very big role in defining the contours of the laws and regulations affecting your business. This is a big deal because ambiguous laws lead to increased litigation, and litigation is extremely expensive for businesses. While employers may not always agree with the administrative agency’s interpretation, allowing administrative agencies to provide an interpretation of the statute at least provides guidance and reduces the frequency of litigation.

If you have any questions about the "Chevron Deference" or any other labor and employment law matters, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C. at (413) 586-2288

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