Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Chevron Two-Step (5/6/14)

Tax Procedure enthusiasts know -- or should know -- that Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), here, empowered the administrative state whereby agencies' interpretations of statutes entrusted by Congress to their administration are given deference.  The Chevron analysis involves two key steps, explained as follows from my Federal Tax Procedure book (footnotes omitted):
The Court established a “two-step” inquiry.  The First Step inquires whether the meaning of the statute is plain and unambiguous?  An alternative way to say this is whether the meaning of the statute is “clear” and needs no interpretation either by the courts or the agency.  If so, the regulation is irrelevant because the plain or clear meaning of the statute itself pre-empts the interpretive field.  A regulation inconsistent with the clear (or plain or unambiguous) meaning is invalid.  The Second Step, reached only if the text is determined to be not clear (or not plain or not unambiguous) in the First Step, is whether the agency interpretation is unreasonable? Under this Second Step, the agency’s interpretation in the regulations is given deference so long as it is not arbitrary, capricious or manifestly contrary to the statute it seeks to interpret (I generally just truncate this litany to “unreasonable”). This gives the IRS authority to interpret and determine the law where in the conceptual space between clear statutory text and an interpretation that is unreasonable under the statutory text.  This two-step inquiry is very important; students, practitioners and scholars must know the steps instinctively; I encourage readers of this text to commit them to memory – at least the formulation of the steps.
With that introduction, here are creative NYU Law students demonstrating the Chevron two-step.

Hat tip to the Tax Prof Blog for bringing the video to my attention.

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