United States v. Haggar Apparel Company - Oral Argument - January 11, 1999

United States v. Haggar Apparel Company

Media for United States v. Haggar Apparel Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 21, 1999 in United States v. Haggar Apparel Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1999 in United States v. Haggar Apparel Company

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first in No. 97-2044, United States v. Haggar Apparel Company.

Mr. Jones.

Kent L. Jones:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In 1978, this Court held in the Zenith Radio case that substantial deference should be given to Treasury interpretations of the Tariff Act.

In the present case, the Federal circuit, without even citing Zenith Radio, held precisely to the contrary and concluded that no deference should be given to Treasury interpretation.

The court concluded that a 1980 statute directed the Court of International Trade to reach the correct decision in customs cases and that this statutory obligation was inconsistent with affording any deference to Treasury interpretations.

Respondent has abandoned that reasoning in this Court, and the reasoning of the court of appeals is manifestly incorrect.

The statute on which the court of appeals relied is 28 U.S.C. 2643(b).

That statute merely provides procedural options for the Court of International Trade in situations where the evidence presented to that court is not sufficient for it to reach the correct decision.

In adopting the statute in 1980, the legislative history made clear that Congress merely intended to provide to the Court of International Trade the same kind of remand and retrial authority possessed generally by Federal district courts.

Certainly nothing in the history of that provision reflects any intention by Congress to abandon the principle of deference to Treasury interpretations that this Court had articulated only 2 years prior to that date.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Well, is... are these supposed to be interpretive regulations or legislative regulations?

Kent L. Jones:

These are... the regulations that are at issue in this case are interpretive regulations.

Stephen G. Breyer:

All right, then if that's the case, then what they have is the power to persuade but not the power to control.

Kent L. Jones:

Absolutely.

It is... the question is--

Stephen G. Breyer:

All right.

Then we should simply look are... what they thought was are they persuasive.

Kent L. Jones:

--The question that the Federal circuit resolved was a different question, incorrectly in our view.

The Federal circuit concluded that they could ignore the regulation altogether, that the regulation was to be given no deference, was in effect a null and void act, because, the court reasoned, that the Court of International Trade was supposed to reach the correct decision.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Well, I mean, you'd think... if... if it's an interpretive regulation and therefore it has the legal force that... whatever is given to the power to persuade, though not the power to control.

When you have an expert body like the Treasury that knows a lot about it, you would give a lot of deference.

Except, if you were an expert body that knew just as much about it, then why would they have some special power to persuade?

Kent L. Jones:

Well, if... if by the expert body you're referring to you're referring to the Court of International Trade, the Court of International Trade is a specialized court just like the Tax Court, and the Tax Court, just like the Court of International Trade, has been directed by this Court in decisions such as National Muffler Dealers and for the Court of International Trade in the Zenith Radio case to defer to the agency's reasonable interpretation.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Jones, did you agree with the premise that... that for interpretive regulations, we accord the agency only the power to persuade and not to control?

I... I thought we--

Kent L. Jones:

I--

Antonin Scalia:

--the power to control so long as it was... it's within the range of the ambiguity.

And even if we thought that another interpretation might be better, we would go along with the agency.

Is--