Copyright (c) 1996 The Columbia Law Review
Columbia Law Review
ARTICLE: CONSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE AND JUDICIAL DEFERENCE TO AGENCY INTERPRETATIONS OF AGENCY RULES
Columbia Law Review
96 Colum. L. Rev. 612
John F. Manning *
When any doubt arose upon the construction of the Roman laws, the usage was to state the case to the emperor in writing, and take his opinion upon it. This was certainly a bad method of interpretation. To interrogate the legislature to decide particular disputes is not only endless, but affords great room for partiality and oppression. 1
Chevron U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 2 settled the now familiar principle of federal administrative law that a reviewing court must accept an agency's "reasonable" interpretation of a gap or ambiguity in a statute the agency is charged with administering. 3 Less familiar is an older but closely related principle that an agency's interpretation of its own regulations must receive similar deference. 4 The established formulation of the latter doctrine appears in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 5 where the Supreme Court explained that "the ultimate criterion" for judicial construction of an ambiguous regulation "is the administrative interpretation, which becomes of controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation." 6 Under that principle, a reviewing court must accept a "plausible construction of the ... regulation," 7 even if it is not "the best or most natural one by grammatical or other standards." 8
The Chevron and Seminole Rock principles, which are functionally similar, could not have garnered more disparate reactions from the legal community. For more than a decade, Chevron deference has preoccupied administrative law scholarship in a way few ...
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