How One Supreme Court Case Could Destroy All Safety and Environmental Rules

May 22, 2023

The Lever:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas changed his position on one of America’s most significant regulatory doctrines after his wife reportedly accepted secret payments from a shadowy conservative network pushing for the change. Thomas’ shift also came while he was receiving lavish gifts from a billionaire linked to other groups criticizing the same doctrine — which is now headed back to the high court.

The so-called “Chevron deference” doctrine stipulates that the executive branch — not the federal courts — has the power to interpret laws passed by Congress in certain circumstances. Conservatives for years have fought to overturn the doctrine, a move that would empower legal challenges to federal agency regulations on everything from climate policy to workplace safety to overtime pay.

Thomas wrote a landmark Supreme Court opinion upholding the doctrine in 2005, but began questioning it a decade later, before eventually renouncing his past opinion in 2020 and claiming that the doctrine itself might be unconstitutional. Now, Thomas could help overturn the doctrine in a new case the high court just agreed to hear next term.

Groups within the conservative legal movement funded by Leonard Leo’s dark money network and affiliated with Thomas’ billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow have organized a concerted effort in recent years to overturn Chevron. That campaign unfolded as they delivered gifts and cash to Thomas and his family in the lead-up to his shift on the doctrine.

In 2010, Crow bankrolled a dark money group led by Thomas’ wife, Ginni, that paid her $120,000. Leo was on the group’s board of directors. In 2012, Leo’s dark money network steered undisclosed consulting payments to Thomas’s wife. The Leo network has funded Republican politicians and several nonprofits pressing the Supreme Court to overturn the Chevron doctrine next term.

Crow, meanwhile, provided luxury travel to the Thomas family for two decades. The justice did not report those trips, and similarly failed to disclose that Crow bought his mother’s house and allowed her to keep living there rent free and paid his grandnephew’s boarding school tuition.

Last year, Crow’s wife joined the board of trustees at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that pressed the Supreme Court to hear the new case aimed at ending the Chevron doctrine.

Crow also co-founded the Club For Growth, a pro-business dark money group that issued a memo pining for the end of the Chevron doctrine.

Spokespeople for Leo, Crow’s company, and the Supreme Court did not respond to The Lever’s requests for comment.


5 Responses to “How One Supreme Court Case Could Destroy All Safety and Environmental Rules”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    I don’t believe it can. If it does then our system of government has failed to protect the public.

    • Mark Mev Says:

      I believe the majority on the supreme court can. Our new system of government will have then protected industry. I really don’t think the majority has a problem with that.

  2. Ann Says:

    That this case is coming before this court is one of the most frightening prospects I can think of.

  3. ecoquant Says:

    Actually we’ll see soon enough. The +1.5C threshold is 5 or so years away.

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