Big Supreme Court decisions on executive power, agency courts, and the Eighth Amendment

June 28, 2024 | By NICOLE W.C. YEATMAN
United States Supreme Court at Twilight

What a way to head into the July 4th holiday: The Supreme Court announced big decisions on the penultimate day of the term—including an end to the doctrine responsible for decades of executive overreach.  

Supreme Court overturns Chevron in Loper/Relentless 

In today’s decision in Loper Bright Enterprises/Relentless, the Supreme Court overturned Chevron Deference, a 1984 doctrine that fueled the growth of the administrative state for the past forty years. 

Chevron required courts to defer to government agencies’ interpretations of vague laws, allowing bureaucrats to claim regulatory powers that Congress never gave them. It “distorted our system of government,” as Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Adi Dynar said, “putting a thumb on the scales of justice at the expense of American citizens facing federal agencies in courts.” 

Now Chevron is dead. The doctrineis misguided,” Chief Justice John Roberts writes in the opinion, “because agencies have no special competence in resolving statutory ambiguities. Courts do.” 

PLF was an amicus in the case, advocating for the end of Chevron. Our brief drew on PLF’s experience litigating more than 80 cases involving the doctrine, laying out 27 grievances against Chevron. While the media has tried to portray the Court’s decision as radical, PLF attorneys see it as a restoration of the proper separation of powers. Here are their reactions to today’s decision: 

Anastasia Boden, senior attorney: Loper is being heralded as a landmark decision, and it is, yet it represents the common-sense proposition that Congress should pass laws, the Executive should enforce them, and the Judiciary should interpret them. This scheme of checks and balances is our best shot at a free and just society.” 

Frank Garrison, attorney: “By upholding this basic constitutional principle, the Court not only delivered a victory for the separation of powers but also for the individual liberty of all people the Constitution’s structure is designed to protect.” 

Court limits government’s ability to issue fines without jury trials 

In another check on the abuse of government power, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in SEC v. Jarkesy that the SEC can’t impose civil penalties on defendants without allowing them a jury trial. The decision was a blow to regulatory agencies’ in-house court system, which operate with biased judges and without proper rules of evidence. 

PLF has been working to end unjust adjudications at the SEC and other agencies. Here’s what our attorneys said about the Jarkesy decision: 

Oliver Dunford, senior attorney: “The Declaration of Independence recounted King George III’s abuses, which included ‘depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.’ The Seventh Amendment was adopted to prevent that abuse, but it returned nonetheless with the modern administrative state. Today’s decision in Jarkesy helps to correct that historic wrong. Pacific Legal Foundation will continue to fight to end agency adjudication that infringes people’s rights to life, liberty, and property—and to ensure that people are not denied their day in court.”    

Anastasia Boden, senior attorney: “Together, Jarkesy and Loper represent the simple proposition that when faced with prosecution and ruinous penalties, you should get your day in court, and when you get to court, judges should judge.” 

Court corrects misreading of the Eighth Amendment 

Finally, in Grants Pass, the Supreme Court ruled that banning homeless encampments on public property does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”  

PLF was an amicus in the case, supporting the Oregon city of Grants Pass. Here’s our reaction to the decision: 

Mark Miller, senior attorney: “The majority opinion in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson gets it right: The Eighth Amendment does not speak to the public policy crisis that homelessness presents to the American people. Protecting the most vulnerable among us, including the homeless, is properly the responsibility of our public policy makers, elected and appointed officials, charities, churches, civic associations, and each of us as individuals according to our conscience. But the Ninth Circuit erred, and the Supreme Court correctly rejected the Ninth Circuit’s mistaken interpretation of the Eighth Amendment.”