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Supreme Court rules on scope of federal agencies' jurisdiction

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Arlington v. FCC [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that courts must apply the Chevron [opinion] framework to an agency's interpretation of a statutory ambiguity that concerns the scope of the agency's jurisdiction. The provision at issue, 47 USC § 332(c)(7) [text] of the Federal Communications Act (FCA), states that "nothing in this chapter shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government." However, § 332(c)(7)(B)(ii) requires states or local authorities to act within a "reasonable" period of time. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website], under its general jurisdiction to administer the FCA, defined a "reasonable" period of time to be 90 days for some types of applications and 150 days for others. Failure of the state or local governments to act within the defined time periods allows affected individuals to bring an action in court or petition the FCC. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded:

Where Congress has established a clear line, the agency cannot go beyond it; and where Congress has established an ambiguous line, the agency can go no further than the ambiguity will fairly allow. But in rigorously applying the latter rule, a court need not pause to puzzle over whether the interpretive question presented is "jurisdictional." If "the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute," that is the end of the matter.
The ruling affirmed the judgment [opinion] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito joined. Roberts argued that, "[a] court should not defer to an agencyuntil the court decides, on its own, that the agency is entitled to deference."

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