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United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Bible

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 2016

United Student Aid Funds, Inc., Petitioner
v.
Bryana Bible

          ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

         Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan.

          OPINION

         Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied.

          DISSENT

         JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

         This petition asks the Court to overrule Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 117 S.Ct. 905, 137 L.Ed.2d 79 (1997), and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U.S. 410, 65 S.Ct. 1215, 89 L.Ed. 1700 (1945). For the reasons set forth in my opinion concurring in the judgment in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Assn., 575 U.S. ___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 191 L.Ed.2d 186 (2015), that question is worthy of review.

         The doctrine of Seminole Rock deference (or, as it is sometimes called, Auer deference) permits courts to defer to an agency's interpretation of its own regulation " unless that interpretation is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation." Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, 568 U.S. ___, ___, 133 S.Ct. 1326, 185 L.Ed.2d 447, 462 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts will defer even when the agency's interpretation is not " the only possible reading of a regulation--or even the best one." Ibid.

         Any reader of this Court's opinions should think that the doctrine is on its last gasp. Members of this Court have repeatedly called for its reconsideration in an appropriate case. See Mortgage Bankers, 575 U.S. at ___-___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 191 L.Ed.2d 186, 202-203 (ALITO, J., concurring); id., at ___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 191 L.Ed.2d 186, 203 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment); id., at ___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 191 L.Ed.2d 186, 205 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment); Decker, 568 U.S. , at ___-___, 133 S.Ct. 1326, 185 L.Ed.2d 447, 463 (ROBERTS, C. J., concurring); id., at ___-___, 133 S.Ct. 1326, 185 L.Ed.2d 447, 463-470 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); Talk America, Inc. v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co., 564 U.S. 50, 68-69, 131 S.Ct. 2254, 180 L.Ed.2d 96 (2011) (Scalia, J., concurring); see also Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 567 U.S. ___, ___-___, 132 S.Ct. 2156, 183 L.Ed.2d 153, 169-173 (2012) (refusing to defer under Auer ). And rightly so. The doctrine has metastasized, see Knudsen & Wildermuth, Unearthing the Lost History of Seminole Rock, 65 Emory L. J. 47, 54-68 (2015) (discussing Seminole Rock 's humble origins), and today " amounts to a transfer of the judge's exercise of interpretive judgment to the agency," Mortgage Bankers, supra, at ___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 191 L.Ed.2d 186, 212 (opinion of THOMAS, J.). " Enough is enough." Decker, supra, at ___, 133 S.Ct. 1326, 185 L.Ed.2d 447, 463 (opinion of Scalia, J.).

         This case is emblematic of the failings of Seminole Rock deference. Here, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit deferred to the Department of Education's interpretation of the regulatory scheme it enforces--an interpretation set forth in an amicus brief that the Department filed at the invitation of the Seventh Circuit. For the reasons stated in Judge Manion's partial dissent, 799 F.3d 633, 663-676 (2015), the Department's interpretation is not only at odds with the regulatory scheme but also defies ordinary English. More broadly, by deferring to an agency's litigating position under the guise of Seminole Rock, courts force regulated entities like petitioner here to " divine the agency's interpretations in advance," lest they " be held liable when the agency announces its interpretations for the first time" in litigation. Christopher, supra, at ___, 132 S.Ct. 2156, 183 L.Ed.2d 153, 172. By enabling an agency to enact " vague rules" and then to invoke Seminole Rock to " do what it pleases" in later litigation, the agency (with the judicial branch as its co-conspirator) " frustrates the notice and predictability purposes of rulemaking, and promotes arbitrary government." Talk America, Inc., supra, at 69, 131 S.Ct. 2254, 180 L.Ed.2d 96 (Scalia, J., concurring).

         This is the appropriate case in which to reevaluate Seminole Rock and Auer. But the Court chooses to sit idly by, content to let " [h]e who writes a law" also " adjudge its violation." Decker, supra, at ___, 133 S.Ct. 1326, 185 L.Ed.2d 447, 467 (opinion of ...


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