The Volokh Conspiracy

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Goldilocks and the Three Major Questions Cases

Hot and cold porridge in Alabama, NFIB, and Missouri.


Recently, the Court has decided three cases that turn on the major questions doctrine: Alabama Association of RealtorsNFIB v. OSHA, and Biden v. Missouri. Each of these cases turn on whether Congress used sufficient language to delegate a power to executive branch. Admittedly, these three cases lack much guidance for the lower courts.

The trilogy reminds me of the classic fable, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. A little girl tries the porridge of three bears. The first bowl is too hot. The second bowl is too cold. The third bowl is just right.

In NFIB v. OSHA, the Court held that the OSH Act "plainly" does not authorize the mandate. In Alabama, the Court at least entertained the possibility that the delegation was "ambiguous," but in the absence of a clear statement, the "sheer scope of the CDC's claimed authority under §361(a) would counsel against the Government's interpretation." But in Biden v. Missouri, the Court found that "[t]he rule thus fits neatly within the language of the statute."

Going forward, how are the lower courts to decide whether a delegation is in the Goldilocks Zone? Too clear, but limited to a particular context? Not clear enough, but reasonable? Or just right?