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In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to kill a legal precedent known as the “Chevron deference.” Industry publication Railway Age said the landmark ruling would likely “clip the wings” of rail industry regulators such as the Federal Railroad Administration.

In a 1984 precedent-setting case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Supreme Court ruled that judges should defer to federal agencies in interpreting ambiguous parts of statutes. According to BBC, “The idea was that if Congress passes a law where something is unclear — or there is a ‘gap’ — it was up to an agency to fill in the gap. In practice, that gave arms of the federal government such as the Environmental Protection Agency the freedom to create and implement rules without fear of protracted legal battles.” The Supreme Court’s 2024 ruling, however, overturns that long-standing legal precedent.

“For many years, overturning the Chevron deference was on the wish-list of ultra conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation,” BLET Vice President and National Legislative Representative Vince Verna explained. “The BLET’s National Legislative Office is still studying the decision, but it likely opens the door to federal agencies such as FRA being second-guessed at every turn, with inevitable legal challenges coming from deep-pocketed Class I railroads whenever it comes to regulatory rulemaking. This will allow judges to substitute their opinion on rail safety and other industry matters where they have absolutely no qualifications. Judges are required to be experts in the law, not rail safety. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court has stripped power away from federal agencies like FRA, which advocates for the safety of rail workers and the general public, and shifted more power to the rail industry.”