Congress' Domain: Appropriations, Time, and Chevron

51 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2020 Last revised: 27 Apr 2021

See all articles by Matthew B. Lawrence

Matthew B. Lawrence

Emory University School of Law; Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics

Date Written: September 8, 2020


Annual appropriations and permanent appropriations play contradictory roles in the separation of powers. Annual appropriations preserve agencies’ need for congressionally provided funding and enforce a domain of congressional influence over agency action in which the House and the Senate each enforce written unicameral commands through the threat of reduced appropriations in the next annual cycle. Permanent appropriations permit agencies to fund their programs without ongoing congressional support, circumscribing and diluting Congress’s domain.

The unanswered question of Chevron deference for appropriations demonstrates the importance of the distinction between annual appropriations and permanent appropriations. Uncritical application of governing deference tests that emphasize the time and procedural steps an agency put into an interpretation would tend to favor deference for agency interpretations of permanent appropriations, but not for annual appropriations. Yet this result is upside-down if courts’ goal is to promote accountability and avoid interference with the balance of power between the political branches. Chevron has two core functions, a subdelegation function (it transfers the authority delegated in ambiguities from courts to agencies) and an anti-entrenchment function (it relieves interpretations of the solidifying force of stare decisis). As applied to annual appropriations, both functions respect Congress’s primary role in enforcement through the appropriations cycle; as applied to permanent appropriations, both functions interfere with Congress’s domain.

Keywords: administrative law, chevron, spending, appropriations, entitlements, separation of powers

Suggested Citation

Lawrence, Matthew B., Congress' Domain: Appropriations, Time, and Chevron (September 8, 2020). 70 Duke Law Journal 1057 (2021), Available at SSRN: or

Matthew B. Lawrence (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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