Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-846f6c7c4f-s4lzp Total loading time: 0.286 Render date: 2022-07-06T17:42:57.963Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Chevron, State Farm, and the Impact of Judicial Doctrine on Bureaucratic Policymaking

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2020


We explain how two landmark Supreme Court cases, Motor Vehicles Manufacturers Association of the U.S. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (1983) and Chevron U.S.A., Inc., v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (1984), have constrained congressional and presidential control of the bureaucracy. We provide an overview of these cases, and we note how the dominant theories of bureaucratic policy making in the political science literature fail to account for judicial doctrine in a meaningful way. We illustrate the implications of these cases for recent debates regarding regulatory rollbacks in the Trump administration, and we argue that bureaucratic control over the past forty years has tilted in favor of the judicial branch of American national government.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


They thank Alex Acs, Steve Balla, Nicholas Bednar, Cliff Carrubba, Cary Coglianese, David Lewis, Nolan McCarty, Rachel Potter, Edward Rubin, Peter Shane, Kevin Stack, Sharece Thrower, Mike Ting, Craig Volden, Wendy Wagner, seminar participants at the University of Virginia and the 2016 Annual Meetings of the Southern Political Science Association, and three anonymous referees and the editor of Perspectives on Politics for helpful comments, conversations, and insights on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


Aberbach, Joel D. 1991. Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional Oversight. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
Allen, William H. 1986. “The Durability of the Administrative Procedure Act,” Virginia Law Review 72(2): 235–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bachrach, Peter, and Baratz, Morton S.. 1962. “Two Faces of Power.” American Political Science Review 56(4): 947–52.Google Scholar
Barnett, Kent, and Walker, Christopher J.. 2017. “Chevron in the Circuit Courts.” Michigan Law Review 116(1): 173.Google Scholar
Barnett, Kent, Boyd, Christina L., and Walker, Christopher J.. 2018. “The Politics of Selecting Chevron Deference.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 15(3): 597619.Google Scholar
Bawn, Kathleen. 1995. “Political Control Versus Expertise: Congressional Choices about Administrative Procedures.” American Political Science Review 89(1): 6273.Google Scholar
Bendor, Jonathan, and Meirowitz, Adam. 2004. “Spatial Models of Delegation.” American Political Science Review 98(2): 293310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beth, Richard S. 2001. “Disapproval of Regulations by Congress: Procedures Under the Congressional Review Act.” CRS Report 7-5700. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.Google Scholar
Black, Ryan C., and Owens, Ryan J.. 2009. “Agenda Setting in the Supreme Court: The Collision of Policy and Jurisprudence.” American Journal of Political Science 71(3): 1062–75.Google Scholar
Brenner, Saul, and Stier, Marc. 1996. “Retesting Segal and Spaeth’s Stare Decisis Model.” American Journal of Political Science 40(4): 1036–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Caldeira, Gregory A. 1994. “The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model.” Book review. American Political Science Review 88(2): 485–86. Scholar
Cohen, Linda R., and Spitzer, Matthew L.. 1994. “Solving the Chevron Puzzle.” Law and Contemporary Problems 57(2): 65110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crowley, Donald W. 1987. “Judicial Review of Administrative Agencies: Does the Type of Agency Matter?Western Political Quarterly 40(2): 265–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Epstein, David, and O’Halloran, Sharyn. 1994. “Administrative Procedures, Information, and Agency Discretion.” American Journal of Political Science 38(4): 697722.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Epstein, David, and O’Halloran, Sharyn. 1999. Delegating Powers: A Transaction Cost Politics Approach to Policymaking Under Separate Powers. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lee, Epstein, and Posner, Eric A.. 2016. “Supreme Court Justices’ Loyalty to the President.” Journal of Legal Studies 45(2): 401–36.Google Scholar
Eskridge, William N. Jr., and Baer, Lauren E.. 2008. “The Continuum of Deference: Supreme Court Treatment of Agency Statutory Interpretations from Chevron to Hamdan.” Georgetown Law Journal 96:1083–226.Google Scholar
Eskridge, William N. Jr., and Ferejohn, John. 1991-92. “The Article I, Section 7 Game.” Georgetown Law Journal 80:523564.Google Scholar
Farber, Daniel A., and O’Connell, Anne Joseph. 2014. “The Lost World of Administrative Law.” Texas Law Review 92:1137–89Google Scholar
Farina, Cynthia R. 1989. “Statutory Interpretation and the Balance of Power in the Administrative State.” Columbia Law Review 89(3): 452528.Google Scholar
Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 2018. Restoring Internet Freedom. Declaratory Ruling, Order, Report and Order, FCC 17-166. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
Ferejohn, John, and Shipan, Charles. 1990. “Congressional Influence on Bureaucracy.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6(special issue): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fiorina, Morris P. 1977. “The Case of the Vanishing Marginals: The Bureaucracy Did It.” American Political Science Review 71(1): 177–81.Google Scholar
Fiorina, Morris P. 1981. “Congressional Control of the Bureaucracy: A Mismatch of Incentives and Capabilities.” In Congress Reconsidered, ed. Dodd, Lawrence and Oppenheimer, Bruce I., 332348, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
Gailmard, Sean. 2002. “Expertise, Subversion, and Bureaucratic Discretion.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 18(2): 536–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gely, Rafael, and Spiller, Pablo T.. 1990. “A Rational Choice Theory of Supreme Court Statutory Decisions with Applications to the ‘State Farm’ and ‘Grove City’ Cases.’” Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 6(2): 263300.Google Scholar
Humphries, Martha Anne, and Songer, Donald. 1999. “Law and Politics in Judicial Oversight of Administrative Agencies.” Journal of Politics 61(1): 207–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, Gbemende. 2014. “Judicial Deference and Executive Control over Administrative Agencies.” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 14(2): 142–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lewis, David E. 2008. The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lowi, Theodore J. 1969. The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
Mashaw, Jerry L., and Harfst, David L.. 1990. The Struggle for Auto Safety. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCubbins, Mathew, Noll, Roger, and Weingast, Barry. 1987. “Administrative Procedures as Instruments of Political Control.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3(2): 243–77Google Scholar
McCubbins, Mathew, Noll, Roger, and Weingast, Barry. 1989. “Structure and Process, Politics and Policy: Administrative Arrangements and the Political Control of Agencies.” Virginia Law Review 75(2): 431–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCubbins, Mathew D., and Schwartz, Thomas. 1984. “Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Policy Patrols versus Fire Alarms.” American Journal of Political Science 28(1): 165–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McDonald, Jason A. 2010. “Limitation Riders and Congressional Influence over Bureaucratic Policy Decisions.” American Political Science Review 104(4): 766–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McGrath, Robert J. 2013. “Congressional Oversight Hearings and Policy Control.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 38(3): 349–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, Banks, and Curry, Brett. 2013. “Experts Judging Experts: The Role of Expertise in Reviewing Agency Decision Making.” Law & Social Inquiry 38(1): 5571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moe, Terry M. 1985. “The Politicized Presidency.” In The New Direction in American Politics, ed. Chubb, John E. and Peterson, Paul E., 235–72. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
Moe, Terry M. 1987. “An Assessment of the Positive Theory of ‘Congressional Dominance.’Legislative Studies Quarterly 12(4): 475520.Google Scholar
Muris, Timothy J. 1986. “Regulatory Policymaking at the Federal Trade Commission: The Extent of Congressional Control.” Journal of Political Economy 94(4): 884–89.Google Scholar
O’Connell, Anne Joseph. 2008. “Political Cycles of Rulemaking: An Empirical Portrait of the Modern Administrative State.” Virginia Law Review 94(4): 889986.Google Scholar
Potter, Rachel Augustine. 2017. “Slow-Rolling, Fast-Tracking, and the Pace of Bureaucratic Decisions in Rulemaking.” Journal of Politics 79(3): 841–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Potter, Rachel Augustine. 2019. Bending the Rules: Procedural Politics in the American Administrative State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ritchie, Melinda N., and , Hye Young. 2019. “Legislators as Lobbyists.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 44(1): 6595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, Glen O. 1989. “Commentary on ‘Administrative Arrangements and the Political Control of Agencies’: Political Uses of Structure and Process.” Virginia Law Review 75(2): 483–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, Matthew. 2013. “Deferring to Congressional Interpretations of Ambiguous Statutory Provisions.” Journal of Legislation and Public Policy 16(2): 565606.Google Scholar
Segal, Jeffrey Allan, and Spaeth, Harold J.. 1996. “The Influence of Stare Decisis on the Votes of United States Supreme Court Justices.” American Journal of Political Science 40(4): 9711003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Segal, Jeffrey Allan, and Spaeth, Harold J.. 2002. The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Shane, Peter M., and Walker, Christopher J.. 2014. “Chevron at 30: Looking Back and Looking Forward.” Fordham Law Review 83:475–93.Google Scholar
Sheehan, Reginald S. 1990. “Administrative Agencies and the Court: A Reexamination of the Impact of Agency Type on Decisional Outcomes.” Western Political Quarterly 43(4): 875–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sheehan, Reginald S. 1992. “Federal Agencies and the Supreme Court: An Analysis of Litigation Outcomes, 1953-1988.” American Politics Quarterly 20(4): 478500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shipan, Charles R. 2000. “The Legislative Design of Judicial Review: A Formal Analysis.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 12(3): 269304.Google Scholar
Silverstein, Gordon. 1994. “Statutory Interpretation and the Balance of Institutional Power.” Review of Politics 56(3): 475501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sunstein, Cass R. 1990. “Law and Administration After Chevron.” Columbia Law Review 90(8): 2072–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thrower, Sharece. 2017. “The President, the Court, and Policy Implementation.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 47(1): 122–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
U.S. Congress. House. Select Committee on Committees. 1973. 93rd Cong., 1st Session. Committee Organization in the House, Panel Discussions, Volume 2, Part 1.Google Scholar
Volden, Craig. 2002. “A Formal Model of the Politics of Delegation in a Separation of Powers System.” American Journal of Political Science 46(1): 111–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walker, Christopher J. 2014. “Chevron Inside the Regulatory State: An Empirical Assessment.” Fordham Law Review 83:703–29.Google Scholar
Weingast, Barry R., and Moran, Mark J.. 1983. “Bureaucratic Discretion or Congressional Control? Regulatory Policymaking by the Federal Trade Commission.” Journal of Political Economy 91(5): 765800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wiseman, Alan E. 2009. “Delegation and Positive-Sum Bureaucracies.” Journal of Politics 71(3): 9981014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wright, John R. 2010. “Ambiguous Statutes and Judicial Deference to Federal Agencies.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 22(2): 217–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yates, Jeff, Cann, Damon M., and Boyea, Brent D.. 2013. “Judicial Ideology and the Selection of Disputes for U.S. Supreme Court Adjudication.” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 10(4): 847–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Chevron, State Farm, and the Impact of Judicial Doctrine on Bureaucratic Policymaking
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Chevron, State Farm, and the Impact of Judicial Doctrine on Bureaucratic Policymaking
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Chevron, State Farm, and the Impact of Judicial Doctrine on Bureaucratic Policymaking
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *