Judicial Deference to Inconsistent Agency Statutory Interpretations
Although administrative law doctrine requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable statutory interpretation, the doctrine is unclear as to whether an agency gets less deference when it changes its own prior interpretation. We formally analyze how judicial deference to revised agency interpretations affects the ideological content of agencies’ interpretations. We find a nonmonotonic relationship between judicial deference to inconsistent agency interpretations and interpretive extremism. This relationship arises because as courts become less deferential to revised interpretations, the initial agency finds it more attractive to promulgate a moderate interpretation that will not be revised. However, the less deferential the courts, the more extreme this moderate interpretation becomes. Normatively, our results suggest that an interest in responsiveness of interpretive policy to the preferences of the incumbent leadership favors deference to revised interpretations, whereas an interest in ideological moderation favors a somewhat less deferential posture to interpretive revisions.
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