Two Words in Roberts' Ruling Signal a Big Fight

Conservatives happy about blow to 'administrative state' in EPA decision
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2022 9:12 AM CDT
Updated Jul 3, 2022 12:05 PM CDT
Two Words in Roberts' Ruling Signal a Big Fight
Chief Justice John Roberts.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The Supreme Court term that just ended will, of course, go down in history as the one that dismantled Roe v. Wade. But much attention is also being paid to Thursday's decision that weakens the EPA's ability to regulate plant emissions. The reason goes beyond the particulars of this case and revolves around what Chief Justice John Roberts refers to as the "administrative state" in his majority opinion. He suggests that federal agencies have assumed too much regulatory power and should be reined in. Coverage:

  • Big win: The ruling represents a "substantial victory for libertarian-minded conservatives who have worked for decades to curtail or dismantle modern-style government regulation of the economy," writes Charlie Savage in a New York Times analysis. Expect corporations in other industries to begin challenging their own federal regulations. As Columbia professor Gillian Metzger puts it: "This is an intentional fight on the administrative state that is the same fight that goes back to the New Deal, and even before it to the progressive era—we’re just seeing its replaying and its resurfacing."

  • Worried: Blake Emerson at Slate writes that the administrative state is the real target of Thursday's decision, and he sees that as troubling. "The opinion undermines the federal regulatory state that Congress has established—with the court's blessing—over the past 200 years," he writes. The upshot is that "the court has struck at the heart of government agencies’ ability to protect the public." When viewed with this term's restriction of abortion and its expansion of gun rights and religious authority, "a clear picture is emerging," he adds. "The people have less power now to create a safe and healthy society. Instead, the court has consolidated power in its own hands to the benefit of factional economic and cultural interests."
  • From the right: In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, Kimberley A. Strassel uses the word "hallelujah" in her reaction to the ruling. Yes, it's a "missile" directed at the "bureaucratic swamp," but it's also directed at a "feckless" Congress that has stopped doing its job. Instead of passing laws on matters such as regulating carbon, it has long left the matter to federal agencies. No more. "The federal bureaucracy is no longer allowed to impose programs of major 'economic and political significance' on the country absent 'clear congressional authorization,'" the ruling stipulates. And that's what prompted Strassel's hallelujah.

  • On the climate: In regard to the ruling's specific effect on the environment, the immediate headlines that arose were filled with doom and gloom. But another sentiment has since emerged from green advocates: The ruling is a narrow one that focuses on a small part of the Clean Air Act and is nowhere near as bad as it could have been, writes Shannon Osaka at Grist. Her piece digs in, finding that the ruling will "limit—but not prevent—the EPA from making future regulations around greenhouse gas emissions." UCLA environmental law professor Cara Horowitz adds that "in some ways I’m actually relieved. With this court we were bracing for almost anything, so this could have been worse.”
(More US Supreme Court stories.)

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