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house Bill H.R. 1927

Should Courts Interpret Ambiguous Laws & Regulations Rather Than Federal Agencies?

Argument in favor

This bill will prevent unelected bureaucrats from interpreting statutes with political bias. It will protect the American people from an overly powerful presidential administration, and rebalance the checks and balances built into our Constitution.

Bob's Opinion
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09/13/2019
Better yet, get rid of the ambiguous laws and the federal agencies altogether.
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John's Opinion
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09/13/2019
The way I see the separation of power in the Federal government is that the Legislative branch creates laws, the Executive Branch enforces the laws, and the Judicial Branch interprets the laws in light of the Constitution. In the last few years this hasn’t happened so much with the Executive Branch effectively creating laws and creating their own budget. Congress needs to take back their legislative powers and get back to the system set forth in the Constitution.
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Bill's Opinion
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09/13/2019
Only congress has the delegated authority to make laws. If a law is ambiguous then it must be nullified until clarified before given effect. Agencies should never be allowed to “interpret” because it puts sovereign rights in jeopardy of capricious agents.
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Argument opposed

Federal agencies serve as the experts in their fields, and are the most qualified to interpret federal laws into policy. This bill would overwhelm the courts with cases, and overlooks the fact that judges can be just as politically biased as agency officials.

Thelma's Opinion
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09/13/2019
This will only fix the imbalance of power if the judiciary can be trusted. Since the judiciary also clearly cannot be trusted as they are tainted by republican shenanigans, this is not an answer.
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Phillip's Opinion
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09/13/2019
If there are “known” ambiguous laws then fix them with the legislative branch. That’s your job. If an agency makes a ruling on a bad law to make it work this should be taken into account by the legislature when they try to fix it. Getting even more lawyers involved unless you are appealing a decision is counterproductive and just ties up court time which could be better used for real cases.
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NoHedges's Opinion
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09/13/2019
No, just no. There is not enough political trust for me to approve of a Republican sponsored power redistribution.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law
    IntroducedMarch 27th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 1927?

This bill aims to redistribute some power that belongs to federal agencies, and give that power to the judicial system. In a 1984 decision referred to as the Chevron doctrine, the Supreme Court ruled that the courts should generally allow the appropriate administrative agency to interpret an “ambiguous” statute from Congress. So if a health-related law is unclear, the Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of setting the specific policy — as long as the department’s interpretation of Congress' intent is “reasonable.” This bill would overturn the Chevron doctrine by clarifying the Administrative Procedures Act to state that courts, not agencies, are in charge of interpreting ambiguities.

Impact

Federal agencies and their employees, Courts, Congress, President Obama, Presidential candidates, the American people

More Information

In Depth: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) reintroduced this bill from the 115th (and before that, the 114th) Congress to stop bureaucrats from dictating how judges interpret laws passed by Congress and their own regulations:

“The regulatory state in our country has spiraled out of control. By usurping the constitutional powers granted to the Judicial Branch, unelected bureaucrats have effectively formulated their own ‘Fourth Branch’ of government, implementing countless rules and regulations – that hold the force of law – without accountability to the American people. This problem has gotten worse over the past few decades thanks to the current precedent that courts should, in many cases, defer to agencies’ interpretation of federal laws and even the regulations that they author, if deemed ‘ambiguous.’ I’m proud to be working with my Senate colleagues to overturn the court cases that are allowing this to continue, so we can restore the proper separation of powers set forth by the Constitution.” 

Senate sponsor Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) adds

“This bill is about Schoolhouse Rock basics. Congress writes the laws, the Executive Branch enforces them, and the courts resolve cases and controversies. That basic system has been turned upside-down: Unelected bureaucrats that nobody can fire write an avalanche of regulations, and the courts just trust them to interpret the limits of the law and even their own regulations. This bill tries to restore some accountability by making sure that judges don’t automatically defer to Washington’s alphabet soup of bureaucracies.”    

In the 114th Congress, Rep. Ratcliffe criticized the current power of federal agencies in a press release announcing the bill:

“We’ve already seen unelected bureaucrats try to tell people what kind of light bulbs they can buy, attempt to regulate puddles in people’s backyards and fail immensely at taking over Americans’ healthcare. We must ensure the integrity of our three co-equal branches of government, and this legislation will stop administrative agencies from taking powers the Constitution does not give them.”

However, Alan Morrison, professor and administrative law expert at George Washington University, told the Daily Signal that it makes sense for agencies to set policy within their fields of expertise. He argued the repeal of the Chevron doctrine will lead to more confusion and litigation:

“In the face of inevitable uncertainty, because human beings write laws, should we assume all those disputes go to court, or that a significant number should be resolved by politically accountable agency people? If the EPA, for example, interprets a law in an expansive way, and people don’t like it, people can vote the EPA out. You can’t get rid of judges. They are there for life.”

This bill has 20 Republican House cosponsors in the current Congressional session. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) with the support of 12 Republican cosponsors, has also been introduced in the current Congress.
In the 115th Congress, this bill passed the House by a 238-183 vote with the support of 65 Republican House cosponsors. A Senate companion bill, sponsored by then-Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), had 10 Republican cosponsors and didn't see committee action


Of NoteUnder the Supreme Court’s holding in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, courts must defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a statute so long as the statute is “ambiguous” and the agency’s reading is “permissible.” This has been commonly known as Chevron deference

Ratcliffe and other congressional Republicans believe the Obama administration over-relied on the Chevron doctrine in efforts to push through large-scale initiatives like the Affordable Care Act. In a letter in support of the bill, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform wrote:

“For the past seven years, the Obama administration has run riot, ignoring Congress and the will of the people again and again. Bureaucrats have continually made up the rules as they go along when it comes to implementing and interpreting laws, with little or no consequence.”

Supreme Court Justice Scalia agrees that agencies have too much latitude for interpretation of rules

[F]or no good reason, we have been giving agencies the authority to say what their rules mean, under the harmless-sounding banner of ‘defer[ring] to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.’”

Media:

Summary by Katie Rose Quandt & Lorelei Yang
(Image Credit: US government/ Wikimedia Commons)

AKA

Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2019

Official Title

To amend title 5, United States Code, to clarify the nature of judicial review of agency interpretations of statutory and regulatory provisions.

    Better yet, get rid of the ambiguous laws and the federal agencies altogether.
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    This will only fix the imbalance of power if the judiciary can be trusted. Since the judiciary also clearly cannot be trusted as they are tainted by republican shenanigans, this is not an answer.
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    In the good ol' days when we had a government with officials dedicated to governing instead enriching themselves, this discussion would not be needed. If an agency implemented/interpreted law in a manner inconsistent with Congressional intent, there would be a letter or a phone call to resolve. When the power of the purse still resided with Congress and not dominated by budget tricks of the Executive Branch- this was pretty easy. Congress makes the legislation and so long as legislation clearly states their intent (instead of only the implementation, as is done frequently today), then that intent, if violated, should allow congressional redirection of agency interpretations by appropriate subcommittees. They generated the law and know how they intended it to be interpreted. Start here. If Congress gridlocks- then go to courts. .... .... .... You can clearly see the damage done to our government by the Republican Senate and Executive Branch. The courts, including the Supreme Court, are no longer trusted due to the unprecedented actions of Moscow Mitch and the other Republican dinosaurs to blatantly, unashamedly and unethically stack the courts with judges shown to support their ideology. I mean, blocking Obama’s nominee for over a year because they needed more deliberation and did not want to rush it- and then, shamelessly ramming Kavanaugh through the process despite the overwhelming opposition of legal scholars; their race to stack load circuit courts. This is not governing, this is a tribal warfare tactic played out with the theatrics of the TV show, Survivor. All of the many, many illegal actions and abuses of power in the Executive Branch and control of the DOJ thanks to Barr has quickly destroyed public trust in law enforcement policies and procedures, trust that had been earned over many years. So, in summary, a corrupt Senate has destroyed public trust in both Congress and the Judiciary. An unchecked corrupt administration allowed to violate rules, laws and conventions has destroyed public trust in the Executive Branch. ..... Well played, Mr. Putin! Well played- you got all three major components of our government all at once.
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    If there are “known” ambiguous laws then fix them with the legislative branch. That’s your job. If an agency makes a ruling on a bad law to make it work this should be taken into account by the legislature when they try to fix it. Getting even more lawyers involved unless you are appealing a decision is counterproductive and just ties up court time which could be better used for real cases.
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    No, just no. There is not enough political trust for me to approve of a Republican sponsored power redistribution.
    Like (24)
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    Dumb idea. You are giving one branch more power over another. If Congress would do their job better, we wouldn’t have this problem.
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    NO!!! That’s called legislating from the bench. The courts should interpret laws only as they are written. If ambiguous, Congress or agencies should have to clarify their intent.
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    The way I see the separation of power in the Federal government is that the Legislative branch creates laws, the Executive Branch enforces the laws, and the Judicial Branch interprets the laws in light of the Constitution. In the last few years this hasn’t happened so much with the Executive Branch effectively creating laws and creating their own budget. Congress needs to take back their legislative powers and get back to the system set forth in the Constitution.
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    The courts are a bunch of unelected officials as well. If a law is ambiguous then fix it.
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    Some “DeepState” conspiracy theory made for the idiocracy takes form. Spare me.
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    In a perfect world going to court on every attempt by the executive branch to establish fair and equitable rules and regulations could be challenged in our court system! That would lead to chaos in a two party system in which politics is put in front of the needs for education, health and welfare of the American people!! It becomes more clear, that the intent of this legislation is to put a monkey wrench into needed reforms by a member of Congress who represents the billionaire class !! Republicans these days forget that we are a government of, by and for the American people; not billionaires!! Bills like this one should galvanize us into a more participatory democracy!! Let’s elect people that care about people not the big corporate polluters who are destroying the planet!!
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    Only congress has the delegated authority to make laws. If a law is ambiguous then it must be nullified until clarified before given effect. Agencies should never be allowed to “interpret” because it puts sovereign rights in jeopardy of capricious agents.
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    Judges and courts are not and never should be legislators! The congress and state legislatures do that! It’s called Passing Laws! Judges are there to enforce the laws when broken. Not Legislate!
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    If a law that was passed is ambiguous, rather than have the courts or any federal agency make a determination of what the law means, the law should be RETURNED TO Congress for them to SPECIFY what is the laws intent. This will keep Congress from making so many laws and allow our society to be restored as a Christian nation where we are self governed because we have Gods laws written on our hearts.
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    Courts have no business applying their bias to laws. If the the laws are written so poorly that they may not be interpreted, the legislative branch needs to clean them up.
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    More Repugnacant power grabbing!
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    Supreme Court Justice Scalia agrees that agencies have too much latitude for interpretation of rules: [F]or no good reason, we have been giving agencies the authority to say what their rules mean, under the harmless-sounding banner of ‘defer[ring] to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.’” This bill will prevent unelected bureaucrats from interpreting statutes with political bias. It will protect the American people from an overly powerful presidential administration, and rebalance the checks and balances built into our Constitution. Ratcliffe and other congressional Republicans believe the Obama administration over-relied on the Chevron doctrine in efforts to push through large-scale initiatives like the Affordable Care Act. In a letter in support of the bill, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform wrote: “For the past seven years, the Obama administration has run riot, ignoring Congress and the will of the people again and again. Bureaucrats have continually made up the rules as they go along when it comes to implementing and interpreting laws, with little or no consequence.”
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    The Supreme Court has been bought and sold and tainted by Trump, McConnel, and other greedy, corporate-owned, religious fanatic profiteers before them. So...hell no.
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    Each law or regulation should have a preamble stating the purpose and intent of the law or regulation. Any interpretation that is not inline with the purpose and intent, would be illegal. Easy fix.
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    Considering how activist the currently conservative-stacked courts are? HELL NO. This is just yet another attempt to insure that conservatives’ wet dream of a theocratic oligarchy is insured.
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