Supreme Court Guts Fed Bureaucratic Rulemaking Power, Wyoming Leaders Rejoice

Wyoming conservatives praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Friday which is being called a “massive blow” to rulemaking power of federal agencies.

Clair McFarland

June 28, 20248 min read

Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building Friday, when the court handed down a number of important rulings.
Demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building Friday, when the court handed down a number of important rulings. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday blew a hole in the power of government agencies in a landmark ruling Wyoming leaders are celebrating as a win against government overreach.

For 40 years, the high court’s doctrine of Chevron deference told judges that if a law is unclear, judges should let the federal agency enforcing that law win any disputes over it — as long as the agency's enforcement rules were reasonable.

Detractors of the rule say it spawned a massive administrative state that wielded federal regulations like a weapon, while its proponents have said it minimizes court backlogs and promotes regional uniformity in federal rulemaking.

For Tom Van Kleef, who owns Casper-based mom-and-pop oil and gas company Oil Mountain Energy, the high court’s decision Friday to overturn the Chevron deference in the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo is a gift.

“Maybe this ruling will create a clear field, a big ol’ football field or a big ol’ soccer pitch. Just a clear area with clearly defined boundaries that we can operate in,” said Van Kleef.

He said federal employees who live in Wyoming are still “our neighbors” and can be just as bamboozled by directives from Washington, D.C., as the businessmen who have to live within them.

Van Kleef is also a pilot and runs Casper Air Service and Natrona Avionics with his wife.

To a pilot, regulations are vital. They represent high safety standards and decades of prior experience. But they must be clear and consistent, he said.

He also theorized that the overturn of Chevron could compel U.S. congressional delegates to write clearer laws and could make federal agencies pause before crafting harmful rules.

Wyoming’s Republican Leaders Cheer

Wyoming's Republican leaders are thrilled with the decision as well.

The state’s Republican Gov. Mark Gordon said Friday’s ruling “removed the fox from the hen house” so that agencies “can no longer unilaterally expand their authority beyond the letter of the law.”

Gordon’s appointed Attorney General Bridget Hill had urged the high court to rule as it did in a filing last July.

Wyoming’s entire Congressional delegation, all Republicans, applauded the ruling as well, with Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis characterizing it as a curb on unelected and unaccountable federal bureaucrats, and Rep. Harriet Hageman saying it “drags government one step closer to functioning within the framework of separation of powers that our founders intended.”

Hageman said people living under federal laws and rules “will have a real chance to defend themselves against rules they deem as unfair, without the courts having to defer to ‘reasonable’ interpretations that may or may not be correct.”

Meanwhile, The Statehouse

Two prominent Republican factions within the Wyoming Legislature both lauded the decision as good for Wyoming.

The Wyoming Freedom Caucus, which tends toward social-conservative and populist ideals, called the decision a “correct” check on agencies’ expansion of their own powers in a statement published Friday to X (formerly Twitter).

Though usually at odds with the Freedom Caucus, its Republican counterpart the Wyoming Caucus also praised the decision as a welcome relief.

“(This) is long overdue,” Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, told Cowboy State Daily on the Wyoming Caucus’ behalf. “There’s little value in imposing a uniform interpretation of a statute if that interpretation is wrong.”

Early proponents of Chevron, including the late Justice Antonin Scalia (who later became one of the doctrine’s critics) touted its ability to make federal agencies apply their rules uniformly across different U.S. regions.

But the unintended consequence of seeking regional uniformity was the loss of uniformity across different timespans, said Stith.

“(Uniformity) did not happen, because it would change as presidential administrations changed,” he said.

Speaking as an individual legislator from Rock Springs, Stith said this decision could allow the influx of $60 million into his community to flood-proof abandoned mine lands and accommodate more housing.

The project has stalled out for 10 years, Stith said.

Power Grab

Democratic Minority Leaders in Wyoming’s Senate and House of Representatives both questioned the court’s decision as a potential power grab by the conservative, six-justice majority that authored it.

“The court may have things it wanted to accomplish (that are) not necessarily deciding cases that come before it,” Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily. He also worried that the ruling could send more cases to court and create a backlog, delaying justice.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, was less subtle in his criticism of the ruling.

“It’s a little disconcerting to see this court continue to overturn precedent that has been in place for many decades — along partisan lines,” he said. “It does appear to be more political than judicial in motivation.”

Rothfuss said he read, but wasn’t swayed by, Justice Neil Gorsuch’s 34-page concurring opinion, in which Gorsuch confronted the legal doctrine of “stare decisis,” or the concept that courts should adhere to the preceding case law. Gorsuch reasoned that the concept isn’t enough to keep the justices from “correcting (their) past mistakes” to conform with the Constitution and the law.

“He tried over many, many pages to justify overturning a 40-year precedent. But he didn’t convince me,” said Rothfuss. “This is where the courts moving forward are going to be problematic, if we simply overturn precedent every time the court swings based on (the justices’) political ideologies.”

Justice Elena Kagan, in a dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown-Jackson, articulated similar opinions, in fiery language.

“In one fell swoop, the majority today gives itself exclusive power over every open issue — no matter how expertise-driven or policy-laden — involving the meaning of regulatory law,” wrote Kagan.

She included examples of highly technical agency rules that included a debate over when an alpha amino acid polymer would qualify as a protein.

“As if it did not have enough on its plate, the majority turns itself into the country’s administrative czar,” she wrote.

As to Gorsuch’s justification of abandoning prior case law, Kagan called that judicial hubris.

Majority’s Ruling Banks On A 78-Year-Old Law

Authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Amy Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, the majority opinion notes that the 78-year-old federal law, the Administrative Procedure Act, delegates rule disputes to the courts. And it should have prevented the Chevron doctrine, which was decided in 1984.

Roberts quoted the U.S. Constitution, the founders’ “Federalist Papers” and the Administrative Procedure Act in turn, concluding that courts can yield due “respect” to federal agencies’ expertise, but must still decide regulatory disputes as the independent branch of government to which the law ascribes that duty.

He called the Chevron doctrine “unworkable” and said courts’ efforts to temper it have made it a “dizzying breakdance.”

Judges may not be experts in proteins and polymers, but they are experts at interpreting laws and resolving conflicts, Roberts wrote.

“That is no less true when the ambiguity is about the scope of an agency’s own power,” says the opinion. “Perhaps (that’s) the occasion on which abdication in favor of the agency is least appropriate.”

Don’t Forget The Constitution

Because Roberts’ opinion discards Chevron mostly on the language of the Administrative Procedure Act, Justice Thomas decided to write a concurring opinion to remind everyone about the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.

“Chevron deference compromises this separation of powers in two ways,” wrote Thomas. “It curbs the judicial power afforded to courts, and simultaneously expands agencies’ executive power beyond constitutional limits.”

Get Ready, Congress

But this decision also implicates the legislative branch, or Congress.

Arguing on behalf of four family-owned fishing companies whose financial losses sparked the case, attorney Paul D. Clement maintained during the case’s January oral argument that overturning Chevron would force lawmakers to work through bills together instead of passing murky laws and relying on bureaucracies to sort out the finer details.

“(Then) we have major problems in society that aren't being solved because, instead of actually doing the hard work of legislating where you have to compromise with the other side at the risk of maybe drawing a primary challenger, you rely on an executive branch friend to do what you want,” said Clement. “And it's not hypothetical.”

Yin said Congress has been in a gridlock recently, but as to whether Friday’s ruling will spur the delegates into action, “I won’t hold my breath.”

Yin said Congress itself should pass reforms to motivate its members to “become functional again.”

Van Kleef was more hopeful about the ruling’s impact, saying it could make lawmakers and regulators alike say, “Maybe I should take a look at this (rule) and see how this is going to affect small businesses … all those companies down on Main Street.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter