Step Zero after City of Arlington

Thomas W. Merrill, Columbia Law School


The thirty-year history of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. is a story of triumph in the courts and frustration on the part of administrative law scholars. Chevron‘s appeal for the courts rests in significant part on its ease of application as a decisional device. Questions about the validity of an agency‘s interpretation of a statute are reduced to two inquiries: whether the statute itself provides a clear answer and, if not, whether the agency‘s answer is a reasonable one. The framework can be applied to virtually any statutory interpretation question resolved by an agency, and its component elements – clarity and – reasonableness – are sufficiently flexible to permit virtually any outcome in any particular case. Chevron also serves as the U.S. Supreme Court‘s most important admonition to lower courts not to substitute their judgment for agencies‘ on matters of policy, at least those matters that have not been resolved by Congress itself. Thus, Chevron can be invoked, when the circumstances warrant, as a symbol of judicial restraint.