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Courts Shouldn’t Let Agencies Break the Law to Escape Congressional Oversight

William Yeatman and Ilya Shapiro

In 1996, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to improve democratic accountability over the administrative state. The CRA creates a streamlined process for lawmakers to veto agency regulations before they take effect. According to its drafters, the CRA is designed to restore the “delicate balance between the appropriate roles of the Congress in enacting laws, and the Executive Branch in implementing those laws.”

There is, however, a big problem. Agencies routinely dodge the CRA by refusing to submit their rules to Congress. And if the rules aren’t transmitted, then lawmakers can’t review them, so agencies escape congressional oversight under the CRA. On average, agencies fail to submit about 12 percent of their rules to Congress for CRA review, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Enough is enough. After the Interior Department failed to transmit an important Endangered Species Act regulation, a coalition of county governments, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, filed suit in a federal district court, arguing that the agency violated the plain terms of the CRA by shielding its rule from congressional oversight. The district court dismissed the suit on jurisdictional grounds, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Even though it was “undisputed” that the Interior Department had violated the CRA, the court nonetheless closed its doors to the complaint. Now, the challengers seek Supreme Court review.

Yesterday, the Cato Institute filed a brief in support of the petitioners. We argue that the Tenth Circuit, by stripping the judiciary of its power to enforce the CRA, has effectively written agencies a blank check to enforce their ultra vires rules against the citizens of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.

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