A major point of contention facing Judge Neil M. Gorsuch in his Senate confirmation hearings this week is likely to be his view on a landmark 1984 Supreme Court decision concerning rule-making by federal agencies. This may seem like a dispute about administrative power, but more basically, it is about civil liberties.
The case, Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, involved the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to issue a rule under the Clean Air Act. Congress can expressly authorize agencies to make rules on one topic or another under current Supreme Court doctrine. Yet even when Congress does not expressly authorize rule making, agencies often make rules to clarify ambiguities or silences in laws in order to enforce them. They do this by interpreting the language used by Congress.