Valent v. Saul: Brief of Amici Curiae Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, the Committee for Justice, and Reason Foundation in Support of Petitioner
Petitioner Michelle Valent performed unpaid volunteer work for her brother’s veterans organization while receiving disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social Security punished Ms. Valent’s failure to report this work with $126,210 in monetary sanctions. The Commissioner acted under his authority to sanction persons who fail to disclose facts that they “know or should know” are “material to the determination of any initial or continuing right to” disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 1320a8(a)(1)(C). The Commissioner concluded that Ms. Valent should have known that her work activity was “material” to her continuing right to receive disability benefits, even though the Act forbade the Commissioner from using Ms. Valent’s “work activity . . . as evidence that” she was “no longer disabled.” Id. § 421(m)(1)(B).
By a divided vote, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, deferring to the Commissioner’s interpretation of the Act under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984).
The questions presented are:
1. Whether the Court should overrule Chevron.
2. Whether Chevron requires courts to defer to an agency’s resolution of a conflict between statutory provisions.
Summary of Argument:
Under the Chevron deference doctrine, courts must use the normal rules of statutory construction to determine the meaning of a congressional enactment. In the event that court finds the meaning of the statute ambiguous even after employing these tools of construction, the courts have indulged in a presumption that Congress intended the agency to fill in the details to resolve the ambiguity. In practice, however, courts seem to search for an ambiguity rather than the meaning of the statute. Once any type of ambiguity is identified, many lower courts consider their role concluded and the entire matter is handed over to the executive agency to “fill in the gaps” or, in some cases, to create substantive meaning where none had previously existed.
Keeping in mind that Congress clearly indicated an intent for the courts to determine legal questions like the meaning of laws (5 U.S.C. § 706; Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S.Ct. at 2432 (Gorsuch, concurring in the judgment), this Court should take this case to resolve the question of what tools the lower courts must employ in a search for the meaning of a statute. Further, the Court should resolve whether the lower courts are tasked with the job of finding ambiguity or finding meaning.
The Court should also grant review to revisit the concept of deference and the scope of deference granted to an executive agency. The power to determine the meaning of a law is vested in the judiciary.
Judicial deference raises questions of separation of powers – especially where it results in authorizing an agency to formulate law, interpret law, and enforce that law.
Finally, the Court should grant the petition in this case to determine when the ambiguity is so profound that deference to agency interpretation results in the delegation of law-making power to the executive, or delegation of judicial power to interpret to that executive agency.