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Supreme Court Overturns Chevron Doctrine: Impact on FCC Regulations for Broadcasters

By Loris Taylor, President/CEO Native Public Media

Photo: Adobe Stock

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court made a significant decision about how federal agencies like the FCC interpret laws. Before this, agencies exercised deference in interpreting ambiguous laws—meaning courts would usually accept their interpretations unless they were unreasonable. In the Chevron case, the Supreme Court says that the courts should decide what ambiguous laws mean, not just take the agency's word for it.

Many people predict significant changes, saying this could end many agency rules, like FCC regulations that affect broadcasters. However, these predictions might be exaggerated. While this decision does give more power to challengers of agency rules, it doesn't mean agencies can't make rules anymore. Agencies can still create rules based on their understanding of the laws they operate under, but now courts will scrutinize those interpretations more closely.

The decision mainly affects situations where laws are unclear. When Congress tells an agency what to do with specific laws on issues such as loud commercials or broadcasting rules, those decisions are less likely to be overturned by courts.

For example, rules that came from the CALM Act, which reduces loud TV commercials, were explicitly directed by Congress. In such cases, agencies are still likely to have their decisions respected by courts.

However, when the authority to make rules is less clear, like in broader laws about what's in the public interest, expect more challenges. For instance, labeling artificial intelligence in political ads is already facing questions about whether the FCC can make new rules about AI.

While the Supreme Court's decision may mean more agency decisions get challenged in court, agencies will still play a crucial role in making rules. Congress will continue to delegate decision-making to these agencies because the issues they deal with are too complex to spell out every detail in legislation. However, agencies will likely receive more scrutiny from the courts.


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