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Noah Feldman

Get Ready, Supreme Court Fans. Brush Up on Your Chevron Doctrine.

How government agencies interpret law is likely to feature in Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings.
He sees an elephant in the room.

He sees an elephant in the room.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch are likely to feature a somewhat offbeat topic: administrative law, and particularly a key issue known as the “Chevron doctrine.” Central to environmental law and all other forms of federal regulation, the doctrine, adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984 in a case involving the Chevron oil company, says the courts should defer to agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous laws.

Dry as it may sound, the principle is in fact the subject of heated debate among scholars -- and last year, Gorsuch weighed in with a lengthy opinion proposing to abandon the prevailing approach, thus strengthening the judiciary and weakening the agencies. Democratic senators are likely to question him intensively about his views, which for the first time may make Chevron doctrine into a household word -- and a partisan flashpoint.