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Mississippi Supreme Court Rejects Chevron Deference to State Administrative Agencies

This is the state-law version of the debate now happening at the federal level. [UPDATE: A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision a couple of weeks ago took the same view.]

Under the federal Chevron doctrine, federal courts generally defer to federal agencies' interpretations of the statutes that the agencies are charged with interpreting, so long as the courts think the agencies' interpretations are "reasonable" (even if not the same as what the court would have chosen). That doctrine is highly controversial, and some argue that courts' duty is to interpret laws the way they think is right.

The same question also arises—usually much less prominently—as to whether state courts should defer to state agencies' interpretations of state statutes. The Westlaw Bulletin just reported that last month, the Mississippi Supreme Court essentially rejected Chevron at the state level, in King v. Mississippi Military Dep't:

Article 1, Section 1 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 divides the power of state government into three branches and assigns legislative powers to the legislative branch, judicial powers to the judicial branch, and executive power to the executive branch. While writing and passing statutes is the function of the Legislature, ), interpreting statutes once enacted is the role of the judicial branch.

If Article 1, Section 1, were not enough to establish the strict separation of powers under Mississippi's Constitution, then Article 1, Section 2, leaves no doubt. It provides as follows:

["]No person or collection of persons, being one or belonging to one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the others. The acceptance of an office in either of said departments shall, of itself, and at once, vacate any and all offices held by the person so accepting in either of the other departments.["]

Miss. Const. art. 1, § 2. Executive-branch agencies must follow statutes and, absent a declaration from the judicial branch regarding an interpretation of a statute, must decide what statutes mean. However, when the interpretation of a statute comes before the courts, and when deference is given to an agency interpretation, we share the exercise of the power of statutory interpretation with another branch in violation of Article 1, Section 2.

Pursuant to the foregoing reasoning, we announce today that we abandon the old standard of review giving deference to agency interpretations of statutes. Our pronouncements describing the level of deference were vague and contradictory, such that the deference could be anywhere on a spectrum from "great" to illusory. Moreover, in deciding no longer to give deference to agency interpretations, we step fully into the role the Constitution of 1890 provides for the courts and the courts alone, to interpret statutes. Although not writing of Mississippi's constitutional separation of powers, we find persuasive the reasoning of then-Judge Gorsuch who wrote, in a separate opinion ... in Gutierrez–Brizuela v. Lynch (10th Cir. 2016), that, absent judicial deference to administrative agencies' interpretation of statutes, "[C]ourts would then fulfill their duty to exercise their independent judgment about what the law is."

UPDATE: Tom Kamenick (Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty) notes that a 4-2 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision (Tetra Tech EC v. Wisc. Dep't of Rev.) reached much the same result a few weeks ago, though the analysis was more complicated and splintered.

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  • apedad||

    Ah yes, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 that beacon of humanity!

    From Judge Calhoon (convention president that passed the constitution): "Let's tell the truth if it bursts the bottom of the Universe. [...] We came here to exclude the Negro. Nothing short of this will answer."

    And from Governor Vardaman after the constitution was ratified, "If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy."

  • David Nieporent||

    It's hard to believe that you would have so little productive to do with your life that you would come here just to post a completely moronic non sequitur like that.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    It's not hard to believe that among the comments at this site that is the one that prompted your response.

  • Nelson Kerr||

    He was just pointing out that the Constitution in question was written by murderous scum.

  • Naaman Brown||

    The racial provisions of the Mississippi Constitution adopted in 1890, which have been modified, repealed or declared by SCOTUS to be in violation of the US Constitution, which are no longer in effect, and which had nothing to do with Chevron deference issues or the King v. Mississippi Military Dep't decision are the first response to this article?

  • FlameCCT||

    Well it is apedad after all; what did one expect from him/her/it?

  • apedad||

    Congrats F-CCT!

    You're at least acknowledging non-binary, cisgender-neutral identities.

    ***golf clap***

  • apedad||

    Soooo...

    1. No more non-sequiturs (or at least ensure they are not completely moronic), and,
    2. If you absolutely must be a snarky dumbass, then at least wait a few entries.

    Got it!

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The rules around here are simple: Just whine about brown people getting away with everything; bemoan the persecution of straight white Christian males; push affirmative action for Republican professors on strong liberal-libertarian campuses; and argue that right-wing goobers are the true libertarians, and you will have no problems.

  • BillyG||

    Summary: Complaint about stuff that doesn't actually happen on this site from a biggot.

    Carry on Tyrant.

  • Nelson Kerr||

    It does not appear that you n know what the words tyrant or bigot mean. Consult a dictionary.

  • David Nieporent||

    He didn't say bigot. He said biggot.

  • Sarcastr0||

    :-D

  • Naaman Brown||

    Anyone with experience or research background care to comment on division of powers between legislative, executive, and judicial branches, as related to the Chevron deference issue: the judicial deferring to the executive interpretation of legislation rather than actually interpreting the legislation (i.e., judges doing their job)?

    (Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U. S. 837 (1984)) precedent requires federal judges to defer to executive agency interpretation of ambiguous federal law rather than considering the intent of Congress and the Constitution to clarify the ambiguous law.)

    I remember junior high civics class, division of powers between the branches, this is fascinating stuff.
    No Look! A dead racist squirrel! distractions please.

    This commentary reminds me of junior high English, the part in Chuck Dickens' story with Pip in Satis house exploring Mrs Havisham's room: "The most prominent object was a table with a long tablecloth ... centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite indistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies run home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstance of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community."

  • FlameCCT||

    Unfortunately Civics class is no longer taught in the Public Indoctrination System pka Public Education System.

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