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United States Supreme Court “Major Questions Doctrine”

In West Virginia v. EPA, No. 20-1530 (June 30, 2022), the United States Supreme Court applied what is known as the “major questions doctrine.” Under this judicial doctrine, which originated in FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120 (2000), a federal agency must point to clear congressional authorization for the authority it claims. This means when a statute gives authority upon an agency to make rules, a court must determine whether Congress wanted to give the agency the power to make decisions of vast economic and political significance. Accordingly, “[a]gencies have only those powers given to them by Congress, and it must be presumed that major policy decisions are left with Congress, not agencies.”  The result of West Virginia was the striking down of EPA action attempting to limit greenhouse gases.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision is not limited to a particular agency.  The effect of this decision will likely act to severely limit the ability of agencies to attempt to address issues unless those powers are specifically given to the agency by Congress.  It is likely that entities, private companies, people, states, etc., will level more challenges against administrative regulations which have a significant impact.