Law experts on SCOTUS decisions on Chevron, Jan. 6 obstruction charge, administrative powers

Faculty experts from Penn Carey Law reflect on the latest Supreme Court decisions and their consequences for future judicial decisions.

U.S. Supreme Court building with people sitting on the steps and others in the background.
Image: iStock/RomanBabakin

With a number of Supreme Court decisions made as the end of the Court session nears, faculty experts from the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School offer their takeaways and analyses. 

Cary Coglianese, the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science and director of the Penn Program on Regulation, and Senior Fellow and Academic Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation & Competition Gus Hurwitz reflect on the Supreme Court decision overturning Chevron, saying it is not surprising. In Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the Court ruled that the Administrative Procedure Act requires courts to exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority, and courts may not defer to an agency interpretation of the law simply because a statute is ambiguous, overruling the Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.

“Today’s decision authorizes a more muscular posture by the judiciary when reviewing decisions of administrative agencies. Its results will be felt within agencies across the federal government. Some agencies will likely give even greater pause before responding to new, pressing problems under older statutes that do not unambiguously authorize needed governmental response,” says Coglianese. “Another consequence of today’s decision is a further shift in power from Congress and the executive branch to the judiciary. … On the other hand, going forward, when courts resolve questions of agency statutory meaning, their decisions will introduce new rigidities.”

“The Court’s opinion today is surprising in how it is framed, but not necessarily in its outcome. The key concern driving the outcome is that Chevron had become a ‘license authorizing an agency to change positions as much as it likes,’ giving rise to dramatic shifts in agency policies between presidential administrations. This lack of stability runs counter to core rule-of-law values that legal interpretation is meant to protect,” says Hurwitz.

“Under today’s opinion, courts will still give substantial weight to agencies’ technical expertise in deciding how to interpret laws enacted by Congress.”

In Fischer v. United States, the Court ruled in favor of a former police officer seeking to throw out an obstruction charge for joining the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. The justices sided with Fischer, who is among hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants—including former President Donald Trump—charged with obstructing an official proceeding in efforts to prevent Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Kermit Roosevelt, the David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice, said, “If this were an ordinary criminal statutory interpretation case, the lineup would be a shock—the conservatives don’t usually interpret laws in favor of criminal defendants. But it’s a Trump case, and so the lineup is less of a surprise and more of a disappointment.”

“Increasingly, it looks as though a majority of this Court is willing to bend the normal rules to favor Trump.”

In SEC v. Jarkesy, the Supreme Court has ruled against the Securities and Exchange Commission in finding that when the agency seeks civil penalties against a defendant for securities fraud, the Seventh Amendment entitles the defendant to a jury trial.

Jill E. Fisch, Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law and co-director of the Institute for Law & Economics, says “this decision looks consistent with the tenor of the questioning during oral argument. It is therefore not particularly surprising. It is also a narrow ruling that does not broadly jeopardize administrative agency power, especially since the SEC has brought most of these cases, at least recently, in Article III courts anyway.”

Read more on the Chevron decision, the obstruction charge narrowed for Jan. 6 defendants, and administrative agency power at Penn Carey Law.