Argument

Relentless v. Dept. of Commerce - AI Analysis of Oral Argument

We had Dodonai analyze a transcript of oral arguments in Relentless v. Dept. of Commerce on 1/17/24 with a focus on the issues in which each individual justice indicated interest, their sentiment towards those issues, and their sentiment towards the positions taken by the parties.
Dodonai Staff
15 mins

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OPENINGS

Attorney Martinez, representing the petitioners, argues that the Chevron doctrine, which allows courts to defer to agencies' interpretations of ambiguous statutes, should be overruled. He contends that Chevron violates the Constitution by reallocating interpretive authority from courts to agencies, undermining judges' duty to interpret federal statutes independently. He also argues that Chevron violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which he believes requires de novo review of legal questions. Martinez further criticizes the implied delegation theory, which justifies Chevron, as a fiction. He concludes by stating that if the petitioners have the best view of the statute, they should win the case.

In her rebuttal, General Prelogar, representing the respondents, defends the Chevron framework as a foundational principle of administrative law with deep roots in the Court's jurisprudence. She argues that overruling such a precedent would require an extraordinary justification, which she believes the petitioners lack. Prelogar contends that the petitioners' arguments are inconsistent with historical precedent and the APA. She also highlights the significant reliance interests at stake, noting that Congress, agencies, states, regulated parties, and the public have all relied on Chevron and the regulations upheld under it. Prelogar concludes by warning that overruling Chevron would introduce significant instability into many areas of law.  

THOMAS

1. Justice Thomas takes interest in the following issues:
  - The tension between judicial deference and the judicial role.
  - The determination of how much deference is too much.
  - The distinction between different types of deference, such as Chevron deference and Skidmore deference.
  - The possibility of Congress requiring deference in statutory interpretation and constitutional issues.
  - The distinction between de novo review and deferential review.

2. Summary of Justice Thomas's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Thomas asked about the tension between deference and the judicial role, and how to determine when deference becomes excessive. Mr. Martinez responded that deference becomes problematic when it requires a judge to interpret the law contrary to their understanding, and that Skidmore deference, which does not require this, is acceptable.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Thomas asked whether Congress could require deference in constitutional issues. General Prelogar responded that this would raise distinct issues due to the lack of a history of courts deferring to agencies on constitutional interpretation. She also argued that deference in statutory interpretation has a long history and is not a new concept.

3. Analysis of Justice Thomas's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Thomas appears skeptical about the concept of deference, particularly when it conflicts with a judge's interpretation of the law. He seems to be seeking a clear line of when deference becomes excessive.
  - He also seems to question the idea of Congress requiring deference in constitutional issues, suggesting a belief in the importance of judicial independence in these matters.

4. Analysis of Justice Thomas's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Thomas appears to be somewhat sympathetic to Mr. Martinez's argument that deference becomes problematic when it conflicts with a judge's interpretation of the law.
  - He seems less convinced by General Prelogar's argument that deference in statutory interpretation has a long history, questioning the comparison to mandamus and other extraordinary writs.  

ROBERTS

1. Justice Roberts takes interest in the following issues:
  - The interpretation of the term "reasonable" in the context of a statute.
  - The role of the court versus the agency in interpreting statutes.
  - The interpretation of the term "interstate commerce" in the context of a statute.
  - The frequency of cases where the interpretation of statutes comes into question.
  - The application of the Chevron doctrine in lower courts.
  - The relationship between Section 706 of the APA and the Chevron doctrine.

2. Summary of Justice Roberts' questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Roberts asked about the interpretation of the term "reasonable" in a statute and whether it's a legal question for the court or a policy question for the agency. Mr. Martinez responded that the term confers discretion to the agency but there are limits that the court has to police.
  - Justice Roberts also asked about the interpretation of "interstate commerce" in a statute. Mr. Martinez responded that it would be a classic legal question for the court.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Roberts asked about the relationship between Section 706 of the APA and the Chevron doctrine. General Prelogar responded that there's no fundamental incompatibility between the two.
  - Justice Roberts also asked about the frequency of cases where the interpretation of statutes comes into question. Both attorneys agreed that it comes up often.

3. Analysis of Justice Roberts' sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Roberts seems to be interested in understanding the boundaries between the court's role and the agency's role in interpreting statutes. He seems to lean towards the idea that the court should have a significant role in interpreting legal terms in statutes.
  - He also seems to be skeptical about the frequency of cases where the interpretation of statutes comes into question, suggesting that it may not be as common as the attorneys suggest.
  - Regarding the Chevron doctrine, Justice Roberts seems to question its relevance and application in recent years.

4. Analysis of Justice Roberts' sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Roberts seems to be probing and challenging both attorneys' positions, asking pointed questions to understand their arguments better. He does not appear to clearly favor one party's position over the other.  

KAGAN

1. Justice Kagan takes interest in the following issues:
  - The interpretation of statutory terms and the role of courts and agencies in this process.
  - The concept of Chevron deference, which allows courts to defer to agencies' interpretations of ambiguous statutes.
  - The implications of policy-laden questions, such as those related to artificial intelligence, being decided by courts versus agencies.
  - The potential for Congress to codify Chevron deference.

2. Summary of Justice Kagan's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Kagan posed hypothetical questions about the interpretation of statutory terms, such as whether a product promoting healthy cholesterol levels is a dietary supplement or a drug. Mr. Martinez responded that it would depend on the original understanding of the statute and that it's a legal question for a court. Justice Kagan questioned whether courts should make such determinations without deferring to agencies, especially when the text of the statute is unclear. Mr. Martinez argued that courts should use traditional tools of construction to interpret the law, even in difficult cases.
  - Justice Kagan also asked Mr. Martinez about the potential for Congress to codify Chevron deference. Mr. Martinez argued that Congress could not do so because it would reallocate interpretive authority from the courts to agencies.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Kagan asked about the variability in the alternative scenario without Chevron deference. General Prelogar agreed that without Chevron, there would likely be different interpretations among the 800 district court judges, leading to potential problems with uniformity and political accountability.

3. Analysis of Justice Kagan's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Kagan appears to favor the concept of Chevron deference, arguing that it allows for uniformity and expertise in the interpretation of ambiguous statutes. She seems to believe that agencies, rather than courts, are better equipped to handle complex, policy-laden questions.
  - She also seems to believe that Congress could potentially codify Chevron deference, contrary to Mr. Martinez's argument.

4. Analysis of Justice Kagan's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Kagan appears to challenge Mr. Martinez's position that courts should interpret ambiguous statutes without deferring to agencies. She questions his argument that Congress could not codify Chevron deference.
  - She seems to agree with General Prelogar's argument that without Chevron deference, there would be variability in statutory interpretation among district court judges, leading to potential problems with uniformity and political accountability.  

SOTOMAYOR

1. Justice Sotomayor takes interest in the following issues:
  - The interpretation and application of the term "ambiguity" in legal contexts.
  - The role of the Supreme Court in determining the "best" answer in cases where there are two plausible interpretations.
  - The concept of deference to agencies with expertise and experience in specific areas.
  - The potential implications of overruling the Chevron doctrine.
  - The application of stare decisis to the Chevron doctrine.
  - The potential disruption and reliance interests that could result from overruling Chevron.

2. Summary of Justice Sotomayor's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, she questioned the interpretation of "ambiguity" and the role of the Court in determining the "best" answer. Mr. Martinez argued that the concept of ambiguity proves the problem with Chevron and that the Court can come up with a best answer. He also argued that overruling Chevron would not disrupt previous cases due to stare decisis.
  - To General Prelogar, she questioned the potential implications of overruling Chevron and the application of stare decisis. General Prelogar argued that overruling Chevron would result in endless litigation and that Chevron provides a binding framework for understanding and implementing Congress's directives.

3. Analysis of Justice's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Sotomayor appears to be skeptical of the argument that the Chevron doctrine should be overruled. She emphasizes the potential disruption and reliance interests that could result from such a decision.
  - She also seems to favor the concept of deference to agencies with expertise and experience in specific areas, questioning why such deference should not be given when interpretations are close.

4. Analysis of Justice's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Sotomayor appears to be more sympathetic to General Prelogar's position, as she questions the potential implications of overruling Chevron and emphasizes the potential disruption and reliance interests.
  - She seems to be skeptical of Mr. Martinez's arguments, particularly his assertion that overruling Chevron would not disrupt previous cases due to stare decisis.  

JACKSON

1. Justice Jackson takes interest in the following issues:
  - The distinction between legal and policy questions in statutory interpretation.
  - The role of courts in policymaking and the potential for courts to overstep their boundaries.
  - The implications of doing away with the Chevron framework.
  - The practical implications of every undefined term in a statute being subject to litigation.
  - The potential for courts to become "uber-legislators".
  - The separation of powers and the role of the judiciary in policing itself and other branches of government.

2. Summary of Justice Jackson's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Jackson questions the assumption that every question related to interpreting a statute is a legal one. Mr. Martinez agrees that courts should not be in the business of policymaking and argues that statutory interpretation is designed to take courts out of policymaking.
  - Justice Jackson further questions Mr. Martinez on the practical implications of his argument, asking how agencies would operate under his interpretation. Mr. Martinez argues that agencies should try to figure out what the law means and act accordingly, and if someone challenges that, it will get sorted out by the courts.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Jackson asks about the potential for courts to overstep their boundaries and become policymakers. General Prelogar agrees that this is a valid concern and argues that Chevron helps to prevent this by allowing agencies to fill gaps in statutes when Congress has not provided a clear answer.

3. Analysis of Justice Jackson's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Jackson appears concerned about the potential for courts to overstep their boundaries and become policymakers. She repeatedly questions the attorneys on this issue and expresses concern about the separation of powers.
  - She also appears skeptical of the argument that every question related to interpreting a statute is a legal one, suggesting that some questions may be more appropriately categorized as policy questions.
  - Justice Jackson also expresses concern about the practical implications of every undefined term in a statute being subject to litigation, suggesting that this could lead to chaos and inefficiency.

4. Analysis of Justice Jackson's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Jackson appears skeptical of Mr. Martinez's argument that every question related to interpreting a statute is a legal one. She repeatedly questions him on this point and suggests that his argument could lead to courts overstepping their boundaries and becoming policymakers.
  - Justice Jackson seems more receptive to General Prelogar's argument that Chevron helps to prevent courts from overstepping their boundaries by allowing agencies to fill gaps in statutes when Congress has not provided a clear answer. However, she still questions General Prelogar on the potential for courts to become policymakers and the practical implications of her argument.  

GORSUCH

1. Justice Gorsuch takes interest in the following issues:
  - The interpretation of Chevron and Skidmore principles in relation to agency decisions.
  - The role of the judiciary in interpreting the law versus deferring to agency interpretations.
  - The potential for agencies to overrule court decisions under the Chevron approach.
  - The impact of Chevron on legal stability and reliance.
  - The constitutional question of whether courts must decide on the interpretation of the law.
  - The potential for Chevron to be used against individuals in favor of the government.

2. Summary of Justice Gorsuch's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Gorsuch asked about the difference between the Chevron and Skidmore approaches, and whether the judge or the agency should have the final say in interpreting the law. Mr. Martinez agreed with Justice Gorsuch's understanding of the two approaches and confirmed that under Chevron, the agency's interpretation would prevail even if the judge is not persuaded.
  - Justice Gorsuch also asked about the implications of the Chevron approach, particularly whether it allows for legal stability. Mr. Martinez agreed that Chevron allows for agencies to change their interpretations, potentially leading to legal instability.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Gorsuch questioned the definition of ambiguity under Chevron and the difficulties lower courts have faced in applying it. General Prelogar defended the Chevron approach, arguing that it provides a clear standard for determining ambiguity and that any issues could be addressed through further guidance from the Supreme Court.
  - Justice Gorsuch also questioned whether Chevron disproportionately impacts certain groups, such as immigrants and veterans. General Prelogar argued that Chevron simply gives effect to Congress's intent and that any perceived unfairness is a result of the statutes themselves, not the Chevron doctrine.

3. Analysis of Justice Gorsuch's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Gorsuch appears skeptical of the Chevron approach, particularly its potential to undermine legal stability and the judiciary's role in interpreting the law. He also expresses concern about the potential for Chevron to be used against individuals in favor of the government.
  - Justice Gorsuch seems more favorable towards the Skidmore approach, which gives weight to agency interpretations but allows for judicial interpretation of the law.

4. Analysis of Justice Gorsuch's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Gorsuch appears to agree with Mr. Martinez's criticisms of the Chevron approach and his preference for the Skidmore approach.
  - Justice Gorsuch seems less convinced by General Prelogar's defense of Chevron, questioning her on the definition of ambiguity and the potential for Chevron to be used against certain groups.  

BARRETT

1. Justice Barrett takes interest in the following issues:
  - The line between law and policy, particularly in the context of statutory interpretation and agency policy.
  - The role of Article III in the context of agency decisions and judicial power.
  - The concept of stare decisis and its implications for overruling Chevron.
  - The nature of Chevron as an interpretive canon and its relationship with the separation of powers.

2. Summary of Justice Barrett's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Barrett asked about the distinction between law and policy, particularly in the context of defining a dietary supplement or drug. Mr. Martinez agreed that the definition would be a legal question, while the categorization of a specific item could be a policy question for the agency.
  - Justice Barrett also asked Mr. Martinez about his Article III argument, specifically about the delegation of judicial power to agencies. Mr. Martinez responded that courts retain authority over the legal component of such questions.
  - Justice Barrett questioned Mr. Martinez about the potential impact of overruling Chevron on existing cases. Mr. Martinez argued that while litigants could challenge previous decisions, they would have to overcome the high threshold of the stare decisis test.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Barrett asked whether Chevron is considered an interpretive canon. General Prelogar responded that she sees Chevron as rooted in the separation of powers rather than a mere interpretive canon.

3. Analysis of Justice Barrett's sentiment towards each issue:
  - On the distinction between law and policy, Justice Barrett seems to be exploring the nuances of how legal definitions and policy decisions interact within the context of agency decisions.
  - Regarding Article III, Justice Barrett appears to be probing the limits of judicial power and its relationship with agency decisions.
  - On the issue of stare decisis, Justice Barrett seems to be weighing the potential implications of overruling Chevron, indicating a cautious approach to such a significant legal shift.
  - In discussing Chevron as an interpretive canon, Justice Barrett appears to be questioning the foundational basis of Chevron and its implications for the separation of powers.

4. Analysis of Justice Barrett's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Barrett appears to be engaging critically with Mr. Martinez's arguments, probing the potential implications of his positions on the distinction between law and policy and the role of Article III.
  - With General Prelogar, Justice Barrett seems to be questioning the foundational basis of Chevron and its implications for the separation of powers, indicating a critical approach to the government's position.  

ALITO

1. Justice Alito takes interest in the following issues:
  - The original popularity of Chevron and its influence on judges' interpretation of statutes.
  - The evolution of statutory interpretation over time.
  - The role of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in statutory interpretation.
  - The use of canons of interpretation and other tools in statutory interpretation.
  - The definition of "ambiguity" in the context of statutory interpretation.
  - The concept of delegation to agencies in statutory interpretation.

2. Summary of Justice Alito's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Alito asked about the original popularity of Chevron and its influence on judges' interpretation of statutes. Mr. Martinez agreed and explained that the fear of policy considerations influencing judicial decision-making has diminished over time due to developments in statutory interpretation.
  - Justice Alito also asked about the use of canons of interpretation and other tools in statutory interpretation. Mr. Martinez explained that these tools are used as rough rules of thumb to guide the interpretive process.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Alito asked for a concise definition of "ambiguity" in the context of statutory interpretation. General Prelogar defined ambiguity as a situation where the court has exhausted the tools of interpretation and hasn't been able to arrive at a confident answer.
  - Justice Alito also asked about the concept of delegation to agencies in statutory interpretation. General Prelogar explained that the relevant question is whether Congress is resolving an issue or delegating it to the agency.

3. Analysis of Justice Alito's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Alito seems skeptical about the evolution of statutory interpretation over time, questioning whether the current tools of interpretation are sufficient and effective.
  - He also appears to question the concept of ambiguity and delegation in statutory interpretation, suggesting that these concepts may not be as clear-cut as the attorneys suggest.

4. Analysis of Justice Alito's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Alito seems to challenge Mr. Martinez's position on the evolution of statutory interpretation, suggesting that the current tools of interpretation may not be as effective as Mr. Martinez suggests.
  - He also appears to challenge General Prelogar's position on the concept of ambiguity and delegation in statutory interpretation, suggesting that these concepts may not be as clear-cut as General Prelogar suggests.  

KAVANAUGH

1. Justice Kavanaugh takes interest in the following issues:
  - The concept of Skidmore deference and its implications.
  - The potential constitutional issues raised by Chevron deference.
  - The practical impact of Chevron deference on the ground.
  - The role of Congress in a world without Chevron.
  - The internal inconsistency in Chevron itself.
  - The transformation of law into policy under Chevron.
  - The shift of power from Congress to the executive under Chevron.

2. Summary of Justice Kavanaugh's questions and the attorneys' responses:
  - To Mr. Martinez, Justice Kavanaugh questioned the concept of Skidmore deference, the need to address constitutional issues if Chevron is overruled, the practical impact of Chevron, and how Congress can operate without Chevron. Mr. Martinez agreed with Justice Kavanaugh's interpretation of Skidmore deference and argued that overruling Chevron would not necessarily resolve all constitutional issues. He also argued that Chevron deference is frequently applied and that Congress can still operate effectively without Chevron.
  - To General Prelogar, Justice Kavanaugh questioned the internal inconsistency in Chevron, the definition of ambiguity, the transformation of law into policy under Chevron, and the shift of power from Congress to the executive under Chevron. General Prelogar defended Chevron, arguing that it provides a framework for determining when Congress has left a gap for the agency to fill and that it does not allow the executive to claim power away from Congress.

3. Analysis of Justice Kavanaugh's sentiment towards each issue:
  - Justice Kavanaugh appears skeptical of Skidmore and Chevron deference, suggesting that they may lead to constitutional issues and a shift of power from Congress to the executive.
  - He also seems concerned about the practical impact of Chevron deference, suggesting that it may lead to instability in the law.
  - He appears to believe that Congress can operate effectively without Chevron, suggesting that it can grant broad policy discretion to agencies through its choice of statutory language.

4. Analysis of Justice Kavanaugh's sentiment towards each party's position:
  - Justice Kavanaugh appears to challenge Mr. Martinez's defense of Chevron deference, suggesting that it may lead to constitutional issues and a shift of power from Congress to the executive.
  - He also appears to challenge General Prelogar's defense of Chevron, questioning the internal consistency of Chevron and its transformation of law into policy. However, he seems to agree with General Prelogar that Congress can grant broad policy discretion to agencies.

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