Clean Water Act: Applicability of the Constitutional Doubt Canon: Comment on Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001)
12 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2008
Date Written: November 1, 2001
Traditional canons of statutory interpretation have played an unclear role in reviewing agency constructions of statutes in recent years. This uncertainty derives from the Supreme Court's holding in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. that courts should defer to permissible agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes. Rather than follow this holding, however, the Court has recently revived and applied several traditional canons in interpreting such statutes. One such canon--the canon of constitutional doubt--has exhibited signs of life after Chevron, although some scholars have questioned its precedence over agency interpretations. In 2001, in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC), the Supreme Court strongly endorsed the constitutional doubt canon. To avoid the serious constitutional difficulties that it argued would result, the Court declined to defer to an agency's clearly pronounced interpretation of a statute and instead imposed its own reading. The merits of this imposition are questionable: The principles underlying both the Chevron decision and the constitutional doubt canon counsel that the Court should reach the constitutionality of clearly pronounced agency interpretations with serious constitutional problems. Instead, by effectively limiting Chevron deference to agency interpretations without serious constitutional problems, the Court frustrated the very principles it sought to uphold.
Keywords: SWANCC, Clean Water Act, constitutional doubt canon, Chevron, deference, statutory interpretation, agency review
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