The Supreme Court issued multiple rulings on Monday that will undermine the functioning of a modern democratic society. You’ve probably heard a lot about one of them, Trump v. United States, in which the Court boldly posed the question, “Are presidents actually kings?” (Its answer: yes, sometimes! Especially when the president in question is Donald Trump, a Republican who gave a third of the justices their jobs and is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee!)

In all likelihood, you haven’t heard much about Corner Post v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, which the Court also decided this week. But it isn’t any less of a nightmare: Corner Post is one of several cases from this term about the administrative state, the array of executive branch agencies charged with enforcing the laws that Congress passes. The administrative state does most of the day-to-day work of governing in this country: It issues workplace safety rules, creates environmental regulations, and protects consumers from the most predatory financial services companies Wall Street can dream up. 

For this reason, conservatives despise the administrative state. And last week, in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, the six conservative justices issued a landmark decision that will make it much easier for corporate behemoths to challenge agency actions they don’t like. The decision in Corner Post magnifies the impact of Loper Bright by allowing those corporate behemoths to bring those challenges in quasi-perpetuity.

The question in Corner Post is about when a claim “accrues” for statute of limitations purposes under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)—meaning, when does the clock start ticking for someone who is upset by an agency action to challenge it in court. Statutes of limitations exist in basically all areas of law, and help create stability by encouraging would-be plaintiffs to file their complaints and resolve legal questions sooner rather than later. If a regulation is illegal, it isn’t going to get any more illegal at a later date; a time limit prevents, for example, business elites from filing lawsuit after lawsuit to gum up the works of government regulation.

Although the named party in this case is Corner Post, a convenience store in North Dakota, the case was actually initiated by two large industry groups—the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association and the North Dakota Retail Association. These groups sued the Federal Reserve Board in 2021, challenging a Board-issued rule that set a maximum “interchange fee” that banks could charge merchants who allow their customers to use debit cards to make payments. (The rule capped the interchange fee at 21 cents per transaction, plus 0.05% of the transaction’s value.) But the groups ran into a problem: The rule was adopted in 2011, it filed its lawsuit in 2021, and the APA’s statute of limitations is six years. If they’d wanted to sue, their deadline would have been in 2017—four years earlier.

The government moved to dismiss the case as time-barred, at which point the trade groups amended their complaint to lead with Corner Post, which didn’t open up shop until 2018. And the trade groups argued that the clock shouldn’t start running for all would-be litigants on the day the agency issues a rule, because that would mean Corner Post’s window to sue closed a year before it opened for business.

At a surface level, sure, that sucks for Corner Post. But the rule was already challenged in court, way back when the Board first adopted it. It survived those challenges, and it has been in place for a decade. Literally nothing about the rule or how it applies has changed, so there are no legal questions that need resolving; basically, we’ve been through this already. The district court was unconvinced by the trade groups’ argument and dismissed their suit, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The trade groups appealed to the Supreme Court, however, which gladly entertained their ruse. In an opinion for a Court divided 6-3 on the usual party lines, Justice Amy Coney Barrett embraced the “plaintiff-centric traditional rule” that the clock starts ticking when a plaintiff is injured. “A statute of limitations begins to run only when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action,” she writes—and of course, a plaintiff can’t be injured before it comes into existence. Hence, Corner Post has a right to sue; the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal, allowing the challenge to the Board’s rule to move forward.

As Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson observed in dissent, this case is a “poster child for the type of manipulation that the majority now invites.” Now, if a corporation doesn’t like an agency rule—or a Court’s ruling on an agency rule—they can simply form a new organization and sue again, perhaps in front of a different judge. Longstanding regulations can now be upended at any time, giving big companies a second, third, or fourth bite at the apple. As Jackson put it, the result in Corner Post gifts corporate America a new way to “do an end run around the statute of limitations.”

This gamesmanship is exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s other attacks on the administrative state. The Court’s ruling in Loper Bright, for instance, established that judges are no longer required to defer to agency expertise when there’s some ambiguity about the agency’s interpretation of its own powers. Corner Post means companies can challenge agency rules and regulations in front of conservative-captured courts whenever they feel like it—and Loper Bright means those companies are even more likely to win.

Many of the Court’s recent decisions focus on limiting the power of others: shrinking executive agencies’ ability to govern, curbing Congress’s authority to do anything about gun violence, rescinding pregnant people’s right to bodily autonomy, and so forth. Yet the Court poses no such threat to corporate power, which the six conservative justices remain committed to expanding above almost all else. These cases can actually be reconciled with the one consistent legal principle this Court applies: Republicans can do whatever they want.

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