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Chevron Decision Could Be Big For First Step Act

Time to Get Rid of the Chevron Ruling that Is Suffocating Industry

Supreme Court To Decide Chevron Decision’s Fate This Summer and it could be big for the First Step Act

The First Step Act of 2018 was the first significant prison reform legislation passed by Congress in nearly two decades. The bi-partisan legislation allows Federal inmates to earn “earned time credits” by participating in Evidence Based Recidivism Reducing Programs and other Productive Activities while they are incarcerated.

The key part of the First Step Act and the paragraph above is that the First Step Act is not BOP policy but rather a law passed by Congress and signed into law by Former President Donald J. Trump. In other words, the BOP should have nearly no latitude in how it’s applied. The First Step Act is unambiguous, but one look around the internet or in Facebook groups and it’s clear that it’s being interpreted differently across the entire BOP.

What is the Chevron doctrine

As the 8th person in the BOP to get out on the First Step Act in 2022 I have studied it, applied it and stay up to date with every facet of it. I realize you may just being hearing about Chevron and the First Step Act so read on.

In 1984 the decision in Chevron vs. Natural Resources Defense Council (a government agency) was decided. The Chevron Decision gives a lot of latitude to government agencies when it comes to the interpretation of a law. Specifically the Chevron doctrine said”that courts should defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute.”

For years, actually decades, the Chevron Decision had very little impact but over the last five years courts have referred to Chevron in cases where a Federal government agency is involved. Basically what’s at stake here is who decides when it comes to the interpretation of the law, courts or an federal agency, like the BOP.

In the 1984 decision the court said that government agencies are best positioned to interpret federal statutes if a question is not specifically addressed, provided the interpretation is reasonable. In the case of Federal Prison and the BOP one of the issues at stake is how much “earned time credits” can be applied to RRC (halfway house or home confinement).

Two cases involving fishing are actually what brought the Chevron doctrine to the supreme court. The cases involve National Marine Fisheries Regulations that currently state commercial fishing vessels must themselves pay for the monitors who monitor their catches ensuring they comply with regulations. That decision was made by the Department of Commerce and not the actual legislation or the court. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January and plan to have a ruling this July.

The internet opines that Chevron will be overturned in lieu of courts actually making those interpretations and of course at that point the BOP would be forced to comply.

It’s no secret that the implementation of the First Step Act has been a clusterfuck. Now, if Chevron is overturned and the courts are positioned to determine things like how much halfway house, a statute would then be in place that the BOP could not misinterpret.

Overall, overturning the Chevron doctrine will be good for all Federal Inmates who are First Step Eligible. The case should be decided in July.

Source: Scotus Blog, Legal Planet, Bloomberg