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When Congress passes a law telling federal regulators to do something – say, reduce air pollution or make workplaces safer – it doesn’t always spell that mission out in great detail. For the past 40 years, an important tenet of administrative law, known as Chevron deference, has dictated that when a law isn’t clear and legal challenges ensue, courts should defer to the agency’s reasonable interpretation of what the statute requires.

But that idea will be tested on Jan. 17, when the Supreme Court hears two cases in which herring fishers argue that the law doesn’t empower federal regulators to make them pay part of the costs of monitoring their catch. As University of Southern California law professor Robin Kundis Craig explains, conservative justices are strongly interested in curbing the power of the administrative state. The outcome may leave regulatory agencies with much less latitude to address challenges like artificial intelligence that the founders never could have anticipated.

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Jennifer Weeks

Senior Environment + Cities Editor

Two cases centered on Atlantic herring could have widespread impacts on federal regulation. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A Supreme Court ruling on fishing for herring could sharply curb federal regulatory power

Robin Kundis Craig, University of Southern California

An important but controversial legal doctrine, known as Chevron deference, is at issue in two fishing cases. The outcome could affect many sectors across the nation.

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