Document Type



"The Thomas I. Emerson Prize Paper."


The most important doctrine of statutory interpretation in the modern administrative state rests today on a legal fiction. That doctrine, announced over twenty years ago in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., directs courts to defer to “reasonable” agency interpretations of “ambiguous” statutes. Although Chevron itself left unclear the doctrine’s precise basis, a consensus has since formed on what that basis is. According to a diverse group of jurists and scholars alike, the doctrine rests on a presumption about congressional intent: when courts follow Chevron, they are merely respecting Congress’s decision to delegate interpretive authority to the agency. Of course, Congress seldom delegates such authority explicitly; Chevron itself dealt with an “implicit” delegation. For the most part, then, the presumption about congressional intent is a mere legal fiction—a fact no one denies.

Date of Authorship for this Version

May 2008