BYU Law Review


Neal A. Hoopes


Since implied congressional intent is the basis for the Chevron doctrine, courts cannot simply presume that Congress intends all unclear statutes to signal deference to agencies. Instead, courts must make some inquiry into whether that rationale remains true under the particular circumstances. This Note contends, then, that the Chevron framework, from the outset, asks the wrong question. Instead of inquiring whether the statute is clear, courts should determine whether Congress intended courts to defer to an agency on the question of statutory interpretation. Instinctively deferring to an agency in the face of every ambiguity undermines congressional intent. While implied congressional intent is difficult to definitively ascertain in any particular circumstance, courts should nonetheless determine whether the question is one on which Congress is likely to wish courts to defer. The Note continues that, in attempting to approximate congressional intent regarding deference, the Chevron doctrine could significantly improve how effectively the doctrine shadows congressional intent by distinguishing between two types of statutory uncertainty, vagueness and ambiguity, two concepts courts have thus far conflated. When a court is faced with a lexical or syntactic ambiguity, the court should not defer to the agency. Courts should embrace their responsibility as experts in interpreting the law because when a provision is ambiguous rather than vague, Congress would prefer courts to follow the best reading of the words it enacted rather than following an agency’s permissible construction.


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