What Chevron’s demise would mean for a second Trump term

By Pamela King | 06/28/2024 04:19 PM EDT

The doctrine has helped both Democratic and Republican administrations win in court.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a debate with President Joe Biden hosted by CNN on Thursday in Atlanta. Gerald Herbert/AP

If Donald Trump wins a second term in the Oval Office, any attempts he makes to roll back Biden-era rules could be hampered by the very Supreme Court ruling he helped orchestrate.

The Supreme Court decided Friday to overturn Chevron deference, a legal doctrine that helps federal agencies like EPA defend their regulations and that conservative judges have grown to despise — including the three justices Trump appointed to the nation’s highest bench.

But Chevron’s demise doesn’t just hurt Democratic administrations that may try to write ambitious new rules under old federal laws. The doctrine was originally created to preserve a Reagan-era EPA air pollution rule, and Trump cited it in federal rules after taking office in 2017.


“Regardless of who is president, this decision likely will lead to more litigation challenging administrative actions and will likely lead to more losses by federal agencies,” said Dan Jarcho, a partner at the law firm Alston & Bird and a former Department of Justice trial attorney.

Trump and President Joe Biden squared off in a debate Thursday night that stoked fears among Democrats that the incumbent will lose to his predecessor in the November race.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, combined with other recent decisions limiting agency powers, will make it harder for future presidents — including a possible second Trump administration — to make a dramatic policy change without express permission from Congress, said Jonathan Adler, director of the environmental law program at Case Western Reserve University.

Under Chevron, courts were required to defer to federal agencies when they had reasonably interpreted an ambiguous statute, such as the Clean Air Act. Most environmental statutes were enacted more than 50 years ago, and do not fully address modern problems, such as climate change.

“The end result is to put a greater onus on Congress to enact and revise statutes on a more regular basis,” Adler said.

Will Yeatman, senior legal fellow with the property rights-focused Pacific Legal Foundation, said that he expects the end of Chevron to dissuade agencies from issuing expansive rules that the courts may strike down or future administrations may want to walk back.

“I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a great way to govern,” he said.

‘Elections matter’

The Biden administration said Friday that the Supreme Court’s decision is its latest ruling for special interests that have advocated blocking student debt cancellation, thwarting the Covid-19 pandemic response and removing protections for the nation’s wetlands.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration “will not relent” in its efforts to protect Americans.

“The President has directed his legal team to work with the Department of Justice and other agency counsel to review today’s decision carefully and ensure that our Administration is doing everything we can to continue to deploy the extraordinary expertise of the federal workforce to keep Americans safe and ensure communities thrive and prosper,” she said in a statement.

Manish Bapna, president of the NRDC Action Fund, said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Chevron highlights the importance of choosing a president who will bring back balance to the courts and lawmakers who will give agencies power that Republican-appointed judges have weakened.

“Elections matter,” Bapna said. “We must reject a second Trump presidency that would entrench or expand a conservative supermajority this far out of step with the nation.”