By Catherine M. Sharkey[*]
[Editor's Note: This week, we are pleased to present Professor Sharkey's Essay on FDA preemption in light of Riegel v. Medtronic. Part II appears today.]
II. Judicial Review
The Riegel majority had little to say about judicial review of agency actions or interpretations, given the primacy and determinacy of statutory text to the question at hand. But what little the Court did have to say may have resolved (at least in dicta) a simmering debate over the appropriate level of deference due to agency views on preemption:
In the case before us, the FDA has supported the position taken by our opinion with regard to the meaning of the statute. We have found it unnecessary to rely upon that agency view because we think the statute itself speaks clearly to the point at issue. If, however, we had found the statute ambiguous and had accorded the agency’s current position deference, the dissent is correct that—inasmuch as mere Skidmore deference would seemingly be at issue—the degree of deference might be reduced by the fact that the agency’s earlier position was different.
Wrapped up in this quixotic counterfactual musing are two salient doctrinal points: first, that “mere Skidmore” deference—which is meted out according to the agency’s “power to persuade” the court, as opposed to unconditionally—is the appropriate level of judicial deference; and second, that agency inconsistency is a salient factor, weighing against an agency’s new-found (and by hypothesis, turn-about) position. What is missing is a framework for the Court to undertake judicial review, probing the adequacy of the reasons given by the agency for taking a particular action, as well as for changing tack and taking a different course of action.