Running on Empty: Will Exxon Mobil Cause a Breakdown for Chevron and the Administrative State?

By Abernathy, Meredith | Washington and Lee Law Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Running on Empty: Will Exxon Mobil Cause a Breakdown for Chevron and the Administrative State?


Abernathy, Meredith, Washington and Lee Law Review


I. Introduction

Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc. is the most cited decision in all of administrative law.2 The significance of Chevron jurisprudence to modern administrative law cannot be overstated: The doctrine shapes the federal courts' approach to practically all statutory interpretation questions when assessing administrative action.3 Since the Supreme Court handed down this landmark decision, however, the Court's philosophical approach to statutory interpretation has undergone a dramatic transformation into hypertextualism.4 Hypertextualism occurs whenever a court relies on a technical construction of a phrase or word, even when it appears that such a construction contradicts congressional intent. This shift to hypertextualism could have unintended effects on Chevron jurisprudence. The connecting factor is ambiguity. Hypertextualism discourages judges from finding ambiguity except in the most extreme situations,5 while Chevron deference depends on a broader concept of ambiguity.6 The two approaches therefore are incompatible. Further, hypertextualism threatens the efficiency of administrative agencies, undermines agencies' autonomous decisionmaking and thwarts textualist objectives.7

This Note presents the Supreme Court's recent decision in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services., Inc.* as a decision that solidified the Court's adoption of a hypertextualist approach to statutory interpretation. The debate over the textualist approach versus the pragmatic approach is a constant in the field of statutory interpretation.9 Much of the scholarly debate about statutory interpretation centers on the use of legislative history as a tool of statutory interpretation10-simply stated, in the face of an ambiguous statute, textualists forbid its use and intentionalists encourage it." Ambiguity-specifically, its absence-is therefore an issue of critical importance for the textualist approach. But, ambiguity is a core concept for the Chevron doctrine: The central question in Chevron's "step one" is whether the statute is ambiguous.12 Without ambiguity, a court will never advance to step two of Chevron and recognize the agency interpretation as controlling.13 Ambiguity liberates the agency.

To illustrate the unintended consequences hypertextualism may have on the modern administrative state, consider a paraphrased version of a hypothetical posed by Professor Richard Pierce. Congress charges an agency with implementing a statute that has three provisions, A, B, and C, each of which can support two meanings, 1 and 2.14 The agency interprets the provisions to mean Al, Bl, and Cl, because it perceives programmatic advantages to that particular construction.15 Decades later, a court reviews the agency's interpretation under Chevron, and finds the "plain meaning" of the statute to be A2, Bl, and Cl, thus disregarding the agency's Al interpretation.16 Later, a different circuit court finds the "plain meaning" in fact to be A2, B2, and Cl.17 Consequently, the agency will be forced to implement its statutory mission in two different ways in two circuits.18 If the Supreme Court then determines that the "plain meaning" is in fact Al, B2, and Cl, the agency may not be able to perform its mission at all.19

One may not find statutory interpretation trends or the continued vitality of administrative law doctrines to be of pressing concern. Consider, however, a more tangible example. Many rights granted to citizens by Congress hinge upon the chosen construction of a particular statute or a definition of a key term. For instance, are you a lawyer, faculty member, librarian, engineer, or architect? Then the collective bargaining and organizational rights of your profession and many others depend upon the appropriate construction of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Congress enacted the NLRA to provide employees with legal protection to freely associate, organize, and bargain collectively to negotiate terms and conditions of employment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Running on Empty: Will Exxon Mobil Cause a Breakdown for Chevron and the Administrative State?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.