Will the U.S. Supreme Court reel in the federal regulators?

What do herring fishermen and the motorcoach industry have in common when it comes to federal regulators? The answer is, a lot.

Like herring fishing boats, the bus and motorcoach industry are heavily regulated by the federal government. In many ways, the motorcoach industry operates much as it did for decades, yet a steady stream of new regulations and enforcement has come out of Washington since the creation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2000, often at the cost of constraining growth and serving the public.   

For years, small commercial fishing boats with a crew of four or five in cramped quarters have been compelled to have one extra person onboard – a federal regulator. Imagine displacing a passenger on every motorcoach trip so a federal regulator could ride onboard to make sure no violations were committed. 

Adding insult to injury, the Commerce Department recently determined the fishing boats must pay for the onboard regulator at a cost of over $700 daily, according to court records. 

A Congressional mandate or authorization? Hardly. In 1984, the Supreme Court set a legal test as to when the court should defer to an agency’s action or interpretation. It said such judicial deference is appropriate in instances where the agency’s action or response was not unreasonable, so long as Congress had not spoken directly to the precise issue at question. This decision, known as “Chevron,” is considered one of the most important decisions in administrative law and is routinely cited in challenges.

In layman’s terms, when regulations are challenged, Chevron directs that courts should defer to the “expert” bureaucrats. 

The fishermen are asking that Chevron be overturned. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear their case this fall and render a decision early next year.  


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