Conservative claims that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s rulings prove he is anti-business are “silly” “nonsense,” according to administrative law experts who spoke with Media Matters.
Earlier this month, the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a “scorecard” of Garland’s rulings as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. The group claimed its scorecard proved Garland “is quantifiably biased in favor of regulatory agencies and against private sector businesses” because he often ruled in favor of several government agencies.
But as Media Matters previously explained, the scorecard is misleading and not evidence that the nominee is somehow outside of the legal mainstream. In fact, many of the decisions NFIB highlighted for criticism were rulings in which Garland was joined by Republican-appointed judges, and the conservative group’s attempt to provoke outrage over Garland’s record ignores crucial legal context.
Top legal experts who spoke with Media Matters pointed out that in most federal appeals cases involving governmental agencies, the court sides with the agency under the “Chevron Deference” doctrine, which “raised the issue of how courts should treat agency interpretations of statutes that mandated” agency action, where the “Supreme Court held that courts should defer to agency interpretations of such statutes unless they are unreasonable.”
“If you look at cases involving direct regulation by government agencies, his pattern of voting in those cases is entirely standard,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School. “It’s the common approach because ever since the Chevron decision the idea has been that Congress can’t always address all of the details that arise in the regulatory state so they give a lot of leeway to expert agencies in deciding how best to carry out the underlying purpose that Congress had in enacting statutes. Therefore, the idea is when agencies resolve those ambiguities in ways that are at least rational and don’t cross any boundaries that are laid down, federal judges usually defer.”
Joseph Landau, associate professor at Fordham Law School, agreed.
“The Supreme Court has said that if the statute is unclear, courts should defer to the agency’s interpretation of the federal law as long as the agency’s interpretation of the statute is reasonable,” he said. “If the statute is unclear, and the agency is interpreting the statute, courts have generally held that the agency gets deference. There are exceptions, but deference is the presumption.”
Jon Michaels, a UCLA Law School professor and a former clerk for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, pointed out that the man Garland is seeking to replace, Justice Antonin Scalia, was a strong supporter of the “Chevron Deference” doctrine.
He also said the D.C. Circuit Court usually rules in favor of the government agencies because it cannot turn down cases and must review even the most unlikely claims.
“The court is limited in what it can overturn,” Michaels added. “The court is not supposed to substitute its preference on questions of an agency’s interpretation of law, fact or policy.”
William H. Simon, Arthur Levitt Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, called the NFIB attack “silly.”
“It's silly to conclude that he is 'biased,'” Simon said. “The law says judges are supposed to defer to the agencies on many issues. A reluctance to overrule the other branches is a defining characteristic of a judicial 'moderate', which is what many in both parties say they are looking for.”
Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, said, “When Judge Garland or any judge comes in and says they side with the agency, they are saying that based on the statute that Congress set up, what the agency is doing is reasonable.”
She also cited that many Republican-appointed judges agreed with Garland. “That is an interesting part of this to see who sided with him,” she added. “Other Republican judges are in agreement with him. That undercuts attacks that Garland is excessively pro-regulatory.”
For Daniel Selmi, professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the criticism of Garland is “nonsense.”
“The court reviews what the agency has done based on the administrative record and in doing it, it exercises the standard of review,” Selmi explained. “Which is favorably inclined toward the public agency. They win a majority of the cases. That wouldn’t be abnormal and it wouldn’t tell you anything about bias, it would tell you he is following the law.”
Joseph A. Grundfest, a law professor at the Stanford Law School, added that Garland’s opinions are “entirely unremarkable and reflect no bias either for or against regulatory agencies or private sector entities.”