Justice Stevens and the Chevron Puzzle

Merrill, Thomas W. | March 1, 2012

Justice Stevens’s most famous decision—Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. NRDC—has come to stand for an institutional choice approach to agency interpretation. But there is no evidence that Justice Stevens shared this understanding. Instead, he followed an equilibrium-preserving approach, which sought to nudge agencies to reconsider decisions the Justice regarded as unreasonable. Although the equilibrium-preserving approach is consistent with what a common law judge would embrace, the institutional choice perspective is probably more consistent with the needs of the modern administrative state, and it appears the Court as a whole is gradually adopting that perspective.