What 30 Years of Chevron Teach Us About the Rest of Statutory Interpretation

26 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2014

Date Written: October 28, 2014


Chevron, the most famous rule of administrative law, is also a central doctrine of statutory interpretation. But Chevron is understood and operates quite differently from most of the other statutory interpretation rules. This Essay explores six such divergences and how they illuminate of some the most important, unanswered questions of the statutory era.

First, thirty years of Chevron highlight the enduring puzzle over the legal status of statutory interpretation methodology in general. Chevron is a "precedent;" the remaining statutory interpretation doctrines do not even rise to the status of 'law." But second, Chevron’s own fate is inextricably tied to these other rules, because Chevron relies on them in its famous two-step test. Critics blame Chevron’s manipulability, but arguably the blame lies more with the legal indeterminacy of all of the other statutory interpretation rules upon which Chevron relies. Third, as the Chevron doctrine has evolved, it has become more attendant to the realities of how Congress drafts statutes — realities in which the Court seems wholly uninterested when it comes to the rest of statutory interpretation. Relatedly, the Court shows no shame in acknowledging Chevron’s source; the Court created the doctrine. The jurisprudential status of the other interpretive rules, however, remains ambiguous, with the federal courts loathe to admit that they have fashioned a common law of statutory interpretation. Fourth, Chevron, as further developed by Mead, is the one instance in which the Court has explicitly used interpretive doctrine to influence the procedures that Congress uses. Again in contrast, across the rest of the statutory landscape, the Court has refused to enter the sausage factory, continuing to reject the idea that courts should interfere in the lawmaking process, or that how a law is made should affect its interpretation. Fifth, Chevron’s evolution has blown a hole through conventional notions of statutory stare decisis, but at the same time the Court now seems afraid that it has given away too much. Today, agency statutory interpretations may displace judicial precedents but, when agencies are not in the picture, the Court hoards power: it gives its own statutory precedents "super" stare decisis effect; is stingy when it comes to interpreting congressional overrides; and won’t cede any control over interpretive rules to any other branch. Finally — and this is a shared feature — both Chevron and the rest of the statutory interpretation rules rest on an outmoded, "Schoolhouse Rock!" understanding of Congress and agencies that is no more, if it ever was. Thirty years of Chevron thus reveal a statutory law–landscape in remarkable flux, and a Court making few connections between the closely linked administrative and statutory domains.

Suggested Citation

Gluck, Abbe R., What 30 Years of Chevron Teach Us About the Rest of Statutory Interpretation (October 28, 2014). Fordham Law Review, Vol. 83, 2014, Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 523, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2515855

Abbe R. Gluck (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203 432 6703 (Phone)

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