Public Law & Legal Theory
The most famous case in administrative law, Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., has come to be seen as a counter-Marbury, or even a McCulloch v. Maryland, for the administrative state. But in the last period, new debates have broken out over Chevron Step Zero—the initial inquiry into whether Chevron applies at all. These debates are the contemporary location of a longstanding dispute between Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer over whether Chevron is a revolutionary decision, establishing an across-the-board rule, or instead a mere synthesis of preexisting law, inviting a case-by-case inquiry into congressional instructions on the deference question. In the last decade, Justice Breyer’s case-by-case view has enjoyed significant victories. Two trilogies of cases—one explicitly directed to the Step Zero question, another implicitly so directed—suggest that the Chevron framework may not apply (a) to agency decisions not preceded by formal procedures and (b) to agency decisions that involve large-scale questions about agency authority. Both of these trilogies threaten to unsettle the Chevron framework, and to do so in a way that produces unnecessary complexity for judicial review and damaging results for regulatory law. These problems can be reduced through two steps. First, courts should adopt a broader understanding of Chevron’s scope. Second, courts should acknowledge that the argument for Chevron deference is strengthened, not weakened, when major questions of statutory structure are involved.
Cass R. Sunstein, "Chevron Step Zero" (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 91, 2005).