This bill aims to redistribute some power that belongs to federal agencies, and give that power to the judicial system. In a 1984 decision referred to as the Chevron doctrine, the Supreme Court ruled that the courts should generally allow the appropriate administrative agency to interpret an “ambiguous” statute from Congress. So if a health-related law is unclear, the Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of setting the specific policy — as long as the department’s interpretation of Congress' intent is “reasonable.” This bill would overturn the Chevron doctrine by clarifying the Administrative Procedures Act to state that courts, not agencies, are in charge of interpreting ambiguities.
What is House Bill H.R. 1927?
In Depth: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th (and before that, the 114th) Congress to stop bureaucrats from dictating how judges interpret laws passed by Congress and their own regulations:
“The regulatory state in our country has spiraled out of control. By usurping the constitutional powers granted to the Judicial Branch, unelected bureaucrats have effectively formulated their own ‘Fourth Branch’ of government, implementing countless rules and regulations – that hold the force of law – without accountability to the American people. This problem has gotten worse over the past few decades thanks to the current precedent that courts should, in many cases, defer to agencies’ interpretation of federal laws and even the regulations that they author, if deemed ‘ambiguous.’ I’m proud to be working with my Senate colleagues to overturn the court cases that are allowing this to continue, so we can restore the proper separation of powers set forth by the Constitution.”
Senate sponsor Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) adds:
“This bill is about Schoolhouse Rock basics. Congress writes the laws, the Executive Branch enforces them, and the courts resolve cases and controversies. That basic system has been turned upside-down: Unelected bureaucrats that nobody can fire write an avalanche of regulations, and the courts just trust them to interpret the limits of the law and even their own regulations. This bill tries to restore some accountability by making sure that judges don’t automatically defer to Washington’s alphabet soup of bureaucracies.”
In the 114th Congress, Rep. Ratcliffe criticized the current power of federal agencies in a press release announcing the bill:
“We’ve already seen unelected bureaucrats try to tell people what kind of light bulbs they can buy, attempt to regulate puddles in people’s backyards and fail immensely at taking over Americans’ healthcare. We must ensure the integrity of our three co-equal branches of government, and this legislation will stop administrative agencies from taking powers the Constitution does not give them.”
However, Alan Morrison, professor and administrative law expert at George Washington University, told the Daily Signal that it makes sense for agencies to set policy within their fields of expertise. He argued the repeal of the Chevron doctrine will lead to more confusion and litigation:
“In the face of inevitable uncertainty, because human beings write laws, should we assume all those disputes go to court, or that a significant number should be resolved by politically accountable agency people? If the EPA, for example, interprets a law in an expansive way, and people don’t like it, people can vote the EPA out. You can’t get rid of judges. They are there for life.”This bill has 20 Republican House cosponsors in the current Congressional session. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) with the support of 12 Republican cosponsors, has also been introduced in the current Congress.
Of Note: Under the Supreme Court’s holding in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, courts must defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a statute so long as the statute is “ambiguous” and the agency’s reading is “permissible.” This has been commonly known as Chevron deference.
Ratcliffe and other congressional Republicans believe the Obama administration over-relied on the Chevron doctrine in efforts to push through large-scale initiatives like the Affordable Care Act. In a letter in support of the bill, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform wrote:
“For the past seven years, the Obama administration has run riot, ignoring Congress and the will of the people again and again. Bureaucrats have continually made up the rules as they go along when it comes to implementing and interpreting laws, with little or no consequence.”
Supreme Court Justice Scalia agrees that agencies have too much latitude for interpretation of rules:
[F]or no good reason, we have been giving agencies the authority to say what their rules mean, under the harmless-sounding banner of ‘defer[ring] to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.’”
- Senate Sponsor Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) Press Release (116th Congress)
- Sponsoring Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) Press Release (114th Congress)
- The Hill (op-ed by Sponsoring Rep. Ratcliffe)
- The Daily Signal
- Rockwall County Herald Banner
- Americans for Tax Reform (In Favor)
- Freedom Works (In Favor)
- Public Knowledge (Opposed)
Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2019
To amend title 5, United States Code, to clarify the nature of judicial review of agency interpretations of statutory and regulatory provisions.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Committee on the JudiciaryAntitrust, Commercial and Administrative LawIntroducedMarch 27th, 2019
- house Committees