A PYMNTS Company

Supreme Court Rejects the Chevron Doctrine – What Does it Mean for Broadcasters Regulated By the FCC?

 |  July 5, 2024

By: David Oxenford (Broadcast Law Blog)

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the longstanding Chevron doctrine, which required courts to defer to expert regulatory agencies, like the FCC, when interpreting ambiguous statutes, unless the agency acted unreasonably. Since the decision, TV pundits have been predicting the end of “the administrative state,” implying the demise of many rules passed by agencies like the FCC. Some have suggested this could mean the end of the broadcast ownership rules, which were recently upheld by the FCC in their December decision on the 2018 Quadrennial Review. However, we believe these predictions are overblown. While the decision gives challengers more grounds to contest agency decisions and will likely lead to an increase in such challenges, it does not eliminate the authority of administrative agencies to adopt rules affecting businesses, nor will it bring about any immediate change in the FCC’s rules on complex issues like local radio and television ownership.

The Chevron doctrine was not about the power of agencies to make rules but rather about the standards courts should use when evaluating challenges to those rules. Under Chevron, if an agency’s rules were based on an interpretation of an ambiguous Congressional statute, the courts would defer to the agency’s interpretation if it was reasonable. This meant that the agency’s interpretation would stand if there was a plausible argument for it, even if the court believed there was a better interpretation. The doctrine applied only when agencies like the FCC interpreted arguably ambiguous statutes.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision states that courts, not agencies, should provide the final interpretation of ambiguous statutes. Agencies will still consider the laws governing their actions when making decisions on rules and policies and will offer their interpretations of these statutes. However, courts will no longer defer to these interpretations. Courts may still find agency interpretations instructive, especially on technical issues, but they will make the final determination on the best interpretation of the statute, even if it differs from the agency’s reading.