Wednesday, January 16, 2013

City of Arlington v. FCC: Federalism

    Federalism has been the root of nearly every major political battle in United States history spanning from the Civil War to Obama Care.  The issue of federalism is entrenched in our society and has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  The Supreme Court heard arguments today in City of Arlington v. FCC.  This case stems from an issue regarding wireless phone companies and their ability to set up towers to provide service, again pitting the Federal Government against local government.  The City of Arlington is upset because an agent of the Federal Government is telling them how to rule on zoning restrictions and permits when constructing wireless service towers.
     Congress had amended the 1934 Communications Act to help expedite the process of these wireless phone services to assemble these towers.  Before the amendment, these wireless service companies needed to get zoning approvals from the state and local governments to build these structures.  The state and local governments were taking far too long to respond even after the amendment to the Communications Act, so the wireless companies petitioned the FCC to set a "reasonable" limit on the amount of time these zoning approvals would be issued.
     The FCC decided that state and local governments had 90 days to respond to reparations to existing towers and 180 days for the construction of new towers.  This upset local governments because the FCC is basically giving themselves their own jurisdiction under said Communications Act.
     This is one of the main functions of these federal agencies: to regulate.  The main issue the Supreme Court is reviewing in this case is if the "Chevron Doctrine" applies.  The "Chevron Doctrine" is a longstanding precedent from the landmark case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. in which the courts defer to agencies in situations like City of Arlington v. FCC.  It is one of the more famous precedents in modern Administrative and Constitutional law because the court has always deferred to the agencies.  Since the federal agencies are "experts" on what they are regulating, the Supreme Court feels it is not its place to make a ruling.       With City of Arlington v. FCC, it will be interesting to see if the court, again, defers to the agency (in this case the Federal Communications Commission) and upholds the Chevron Doctrine.  The other issue is whether or not an agency can interpret or allocate power to itself under a congressional act.  In other words, does an agency have jurisdiction to interpret and regulate on its own rule?  When congress writes the enabling acts creating these federal agencies, they outline what the agency can and cannot do.  They also have power over the agencies by amending or even writing new acts such as the Communications Act.  The court is sometimes faced with the daunting task of determining what the intention of congress was when they drafted the bill.
      Again, the recurring issue of federalism is brought into the picture because the City of Arlington is upset that the FCC can issue this ruling telling them how to govern and establishing time limits.  For some time now, republicans have been up in arms about the "over-regulation" in our government.  They have wanted to deregulate and cut down on the power and jurisdiction of federal agencies.  Republicans would love to see the Chevron Doctrine struck down because, for them, it would be a step in the right direction.  Federal agencies regulate every aspect of our lives which includes big business, wall street, and everything in between.  The EPA has set forth strict regulations regarding air pollution from factories which has the business community seeing red.  I believe if the court were to rule against the Chevron Doctrine, it could establish a slippery slope toward deregulation and a plethora of new suits against administrative agencies.
     Federalism has been a thorn in the side of American politics.  According to the Constitution,  "... the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land."  Historically, Republicans do not take kindly to the federal government stepping foot inside the realm of the states.  Some issues such as education should be left up to the states while it is important to have regulatory bodies which control our policies and functions.  Regulation is good in most instances and keeps everything on an even keel.           

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