The Theoretical Beauty of the Legislative Branch

June 28, 2024

I’ve been reading John Roberts rulings since I was a pre-law undergraduate student, and simply put… the guy lives in a fantasy world.

The Supreme Court on Friday curtailed the power of federal government agencies to regulate vast parts of American life, overturning a 40-year-old legal precedent long targeted by conservatives who say the government gives unaccountable bureaucrats too much authority.

For decades, the court’s decision in Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council directed judges to defer to the reasonable interpretations of federal agency officials in cases that involve how to administer ambiguous federal laws. That power will now revert to judges, a move experts said could lead to a spate of challenges of federal guidelines and make regulation more unpredictable as different courts assess agency decisions in different ways.

Writing for the majority in the 6-3 ruling in a pair of cases, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the Chevron framework has proved “unworkable” and allowed federal agencies to change course even without direction from Congress. 

“Chevron was a judicial invention that required judges to disregard their statutory duties,” Roberts wrote.

You don’t have to be especially cynical to realize that the United States Congress has had a lot of trouble producing thorough, detailed legislation at a rate sufficient to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That’s why so many things go to the courts! But Roberts is nothing if not consistent — from his judicial philosophy to his decisions and opinions on the regulatory state, this dude has always believed that the legislative branch should clearly articulate what is and isn’t permitted, and that courts can make this happen by simply rejecting regulatory actions that don’t have express legislative authority. 

Cool, cool. But I have to like, live here, man, and the thing you are describing almost never happens. We hate long, detailed legislation! We’ve been told to hate it since the Reagan administration, by legislators waving around giant stacks of papers and lamenting “this 9000 page bill!”, as if the number of pages in a law is a measure for the “amount of government” or something. So which is it? Simple bills, or detailed bills?

I actually believe that Roberts would like detailed bills. He would probably shoot a lot of them down from his position on Mount Olympus, but he would enjoy the back and forth, and I don’t think he’d undercut the few things he actually allowed to pass. It’s not an intellectually incoherent approach to government at all — it’s just a completely impractical civic fantasy that people should be debating in dorm rooms late at night, not suddenly deciding to implement in a country that is already paralyzed and ready to tear itself apart. 

Again — “the Chevron framework has proved ‘unworkable’”, says… some freaking guy we don’t even vote for. I mean, look, I’m not begging for my life to be micromanaged by a bunch of dorks at the Department of Agriculture or anything, but at least I can vote for one of two extremely old men who can appoint some political hack to get in or out of their way a little bit. John Roberts, on the other hand — I mean, the guy literally has zero accountability. Zero! So don’t start poking at shit, man!

I just can’t take seriously anybody who thinks today’s Congress — we didn’t even have a SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE for weeks for absolutely no discernible reason — is even remotely up to the task of providing the kind of detail Roberts and his coalition have suddenly decided is necessary. This pre-WWII vision of American government guys like Roberts continue to wave around a hundred years after it had any relevance at all is just childishly unworkable, and now my kids are probably going to have to do their own private-sector mercury testing or whatever while the guy puts up William McKinley posters in his bedroom. I’ve been super patient with this dude for 25 years but I think I’m done with him.