On November 6, 2018, the voters of Florida approved a Constitutional Amendment (“Amendment 6”) which, among other things, eliminates the deference given to administrative agencies in interpreting statutes or rules. Judicial officers are now required to interpret such statutes and rules de novo.
By way of background, the U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, if based on a permissible construction, when the statute is silent or ambiguous on the issue at bar. Id. As such, wide deference was given to administrative agencies in statutory and rule interpretation. The passage of Amendment 6 to the Florida Constitution, however, requires the state court or administrative law judge to interpret the statute or rule.
Specifically, the amendment creates Section 21 of Article V, Florida Constitution, which provides:
Judicial interpretation of statutes and rules. In interpreting a state statute or rule, a state court or an officer hearing an administrative action pursuant to general law may not defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of such statute or rule and, instead, must interpret such statute or rule de novo.
What does this mean for cases involving the interpretation of agency rules and statutes? Agencies will be subjected to the most reasonable interpretation of a rule or statute when such rule or statute is at issue in a dispute before a judicial officer or administrative law judge. As such, parties engaged in litigation with agencies will have the benefit of an unbiased interpretation in cases where their interests are at stake.
Amendment 6 also address two other issues: 1) the retirement age for judges, and 2) victim’s rights in criminal proceedings. The age of mandatory retirement for the state’s judges will be raised from age 70 to age 75. However, this will not go into effect until July 1, 2019. The second issue is the extension of a “bill of rights” for victims of crimes, modeled after a California law.