In a 6-3 opinion (Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo) rendered today, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned decades of legal precedent and curtailed the power of federal agencies to implement laws passed by Congress. The Court held 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.”

Chevron deference, stemming from Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, was a principle in U.S. administrative law that dictated how courts reviewed interpretations of ambiguous statutes by federal agencies. Prior to the SCOTUS decision today, the Court established a two-step approach for judicial review:

Step 1: Does Congress Clearly Speak to the Issue? The first step asked whether Congress had spoken clearly on the issue in question within the statute. If the Congressional intent was clear from the statutory text, the court enforced that intent.

Step 2: Is the Agency’s Interpretation Reasonable? If Congressional intent is ambiguous or silent on the issue (which is often the case), the court deferred to the agency’s interpretation so long as it was reasonable. This meant the interpretation was based on a permissible construction of the statute, and not be arbitrary or capricious.

In essence, Chevron deference granted deference to federal agencies’ interpretations of the laws they were tasked with administering, but only when those interpretations are reasonable and Congress had not provided a clear directive.

With the end of Chevron deference, the Court has essentially restricted the power of federal agencies to resolve ambiguity and interpretive questions of law. The judicial branch will now interpret the law when Congress has left an area of interpretive discretion, and no longer give deference to the agency’s interpretation of the law.

The long-term impact on immigration law will take time to unfold, but the end of Chevron means increased judicial scrutiny of agency decisions affecting immigrants’ rights. Immigration agencies typically interpret statutes governing eligibility for benefits narrowly, making it harder for non-citizens to qualify or challenge deportation order. Courts, applying Chevron deference, might have upheld these interpretations even if another reading was possible. For example, citing In re Briones, 24 I. & N. Dec. 355, 370 (BIA 2007), Justice Gorsuch stated in his concurring opinion, the Board of Immigration appeals has previously invoked Chevron deference to permit the agency to “overrule a judicial decision about the best reading of the law with its own different ‘reasonable’ one and in that way deny relief to countless future immigrants.” With the end of Chevron deference, advocates will be able to re-litigate whether section 245(i) adjustment of status is available to a non-citizen who is inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) of the Act (the permanent bar). Federal agency regulations limiting asylum law or narrowly interpreting age-out protections for children will come under much-needed scrutiny.

In conclusion, the end of Chevron deference is a significant development for immigration law. With Chevron deference gone, courts will now have more freedom to scrutinize agency decisions. Depending on the issue, this could lead to more favorable outcomes for immigrants. The full impact of this change will likely become clearer over time as advocates challenge existing agency regulations.

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