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Oops, John Roberts Just Took Over the Federal Government

As a resident of one of the largest and greatest cities on the globe, I am constantly aware of how little I know about the wide array of infrastructure and complex machinery that keeps my existence humming along. I use subways I couldn’t begin to repair, rely on engines I don’t understand, and manage my life on a handheld computer through the convenience of user interfaces that someone a lot smarter than me dreamt up. And that’s true for most of us; even when we’re versed in certain complex systems, many of the others we need and use are mysteries to us. We just trust that there’s an expert somewhere we can call on if things go awry.

But that apparently doesn’t apply to Chief Justice John Roberts or the other members of the sinister supermajority on the Supreme Court, because they just ruled that they know everything and are gonna make the entire federal administration prove it. Forever.

It’s been hidden behind the massive freak-out over Biden’s debate performance and his age, but the Supreme Court has kind of gutted the administrative state and taken over it instead. Ambitious federal judges are already taking advantage of the ruling to force us back into shitty non-compete agreements and strip protections from trans students, and that’s just the start.

In another one of those complexities that we rely on but don’t understand, there was a 1984 (heh) case about regulating environmental concerns around oil giant Chevron that resulted in a rule from the courts that the law and the system defer to expert interpretation of written statutes to effect legislation, as long as Congress has set out sufficiently clear rules and aims. The result of that was to trust that the executive branch had done its job staffing people who would understand how to make things happen even if the details were a little hazy. Doctors would know how to administer rules for other doctors; food safety regulators would be able to recognize and react to unsafe conditions; environmental experts would be able to act on delivering clean air and water without having to return to Congress or appeal to courts to get them to clarify every word of the statute. Now that’s all gone.

In its place, the Imperial Roberts Court has said that the federal judiciary is the right and just place for every single regulatory conflict to be parsed, because judges are now experts in everything. John Roberts is going to tell you if the listeria outbreak in dozens of ice cream products is safe. John Roberts is going to tell you if that toxic runoff from the Tesla factory was legally dumped. John Roberts will let you know if that privacy law has been skirted by a data broker, whether the carcinogenic coolant leaking in that fridge is grounds for a lawsuit, and whether that abortion really was medically necessary. Who needs a sprawling federal bureaucracy of specially trained regulators when we have six Supreme Court justices who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express—no, I’m sorry, at a billionaire’s secret luxury resort—last night?

Hundreds of administrative rules, thousands of areas of expertise, affecting the lives of millions of Americans are now all in the hands of a half-dozen theocrats who struggled to find meaning in the clear text of the 14th Amendment. Well, that’s not exactly true. The unmaking of the Chevron decision gives authority to the entire federal judiciary to make decisions about what Congress really meant, so let’s all look forward to the Fifth Circuit telling us that mass food poisoning is what makes America free. All of this for the sake of unleashing exploitative business interests at the expense of the people the regulatory state was designed to protect.

But maybe there’s a silver lining here, after all is said and done. John Roberts might have the unique aptitude for digging into the complexities of federal administration on every possible topic, but surely even he doesn’t have the time to do all of it himself. We should triple the size of the Supreme Court and double the size of the federal circuits to get him enough help to handle all the work he’s given himself. With such a big country to rule over, even with all their brilliance and knowledge, nine justices just aren’t enough.

Kaitlin Byrd
Kaitlin Byrd
Knows too much, thinks even more. Has infinite space in her heart for tea and breakfast for dinner. Really from New York, so always ready to cut a bitch.