Whitman v. American Trucking Ass'ns, Inc.

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Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 7, 2000
Decided February 27, 2001
Full case nameChristine Todd Whitman, Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency, et al.
American Trucking Associations, Inc., et al.
Citations531 U.S. 457 (more)
121 S. Ct. 903; 149 L. Ed. 2d 1; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 1952
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
Prior175 F.3d 1027 (D.C. Cir. 1999), opinion modified on rehearing en banc, 195 F.3d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1999); cert. granted, 529 U.S. 1129, 530 U.S. 1202 (2000).
(1) The Clean Air Act properly delegated legislative power to the Environmental Protection Agency. (2) The Environmental Protection Agency cannot consider implementation costs in setting primary and secondary national ambient air quality standards.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityScalia, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Thomas, Kennedy, Ginsburg; Stevens, Souter (except part III); Breyer (except part II)
ConcurrenceStevens (in part), joined by Souter
ConcurrenceBreyer (in part)
Laws applied
Section 109 of the Clean Air Act (CAA)

Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc., 531 U.S. 457 (2001), was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in which the Environmental Protection Agency's National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for regulating ozone and particulate matter was challenged by the American Trucking Association, along with other private companies and the states of Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia.[1]

The Supreme Court faced the issues of whether the statute had impermissibly delegated legislative power to the agency and whether the Administrator of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman, could consider the costs of implementation in setting national ambient air quality standards.[2]


Section 109(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act instructed the EPA to set "ambient air quality standards the attainment and maintenance of which in the judgment of the Administrator, based on [the] criteria [documents of Section 108] and allowing an adequate margin of safety, are requisite to protect the public health." The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had decided that the standard making procedure delegated by Congress to the EPA to set air quality was an unconstitutional delegation in contravention of Article I, Section I, of the US Constitution because the EPA had interpreted the statute to provide "no intelligible principle" to guide the agency's exercise of authority.

It also found that the EPA could not consider the cost of implementing a national ambient air quality standard.


In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Court of Appeals' decision.[3] The Court affirmed that the text of Section 109(b) unambiguously barred cost considerations from the NAAQS-setting process. The Court wrote, "Whether the statute delegates legislative power is a question for the courts, and an agency’s voluntary self-denial has no bearing upon the answer.”[4] The Court determined that that the scope of discretion that Section 109(b)(1) allowed was well within the outer limits of nondelegation precedents.[5] Consequently, the Court remanded the case for the Court of Appeals to reinterpret the statute that would avoid a delegation of legislative power.[6]


Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurrence. He was not sure that the intelligible principle criterion served to prevent all cessions of legislative power.[7] He believed that there are cases in which the principle itself is intelligible but the significance of the delegated decision is simply too great for the decision to be called anything other than legislative. He stated that he would be willing to reconsider the delegation precedents in the future to determine whether delegation jurisprudence has strayed too far from Founders' understanding of separation of powers.

Justice John Paul Stevens also wrote a separate concurrence, which was joined by Justice Souter.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whitman v. American Trucking Ass'ns, Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 463 (2001).
  2. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 462.
  3. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 486.
  4. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 473.
  5. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 474.
  6. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 476.
  7. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 487 (Thomas, J., concurring).
  8. ^ Whitman, 531 U.S. at 487-490 (Stevens, J., concurring).


  • Levy, Robert A.; Mellor, William H. (2008). "Lawmaking by Administrative Agencies". The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. New York: Sentinel. pp. 67–88. ISBN 978-1-59523-050-8.

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