June 01, 2016

ABA expresses concerns over proposal to eliminate ALJs from some cases

The ABA expressed concerns this month about a new proposal by the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Disability Adjudication and Review to shift certain categories of cases from administrative law judge (ALJ) hearings to proceedings presided over by administrative appeals judges (AAJs) and attorney examiners within the agency’s Appeals Council.

ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman, in a June 1 letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, commended the subcommittee for holding a May 12 hearing on the concerns about due process as the SSA attempts to address a backlog of pending cases. 

“The ABA has worked actively for over two decades to protect the adjudicative independence of the administrative judiciary and promote increased efficiency and fairness in the system,” Susman said. He explained that longstanding ABA policy calls for due process, on-the-record hearings presided over by ALJs pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and applying standards consistent with the law and published regulations. The ABA also supports an informal and non-adversarial hearing before an ALJ that allows the ALJ to function as an independent fact finder who has a duty to develop the record.

Susman said that allowing the SSA to ignore the use of due process hearings conducted by ALJs is contrary to both the SSA and the APA.

The ABA letter also urged the subcommittee to consider legislation to establish an Administrative Law Judge Conference of the United States as an independent agency to handle ALJ personnel matters, including testing, selection and appointment.

“A fair and impartial administrative judiciary is indispensable to our system of justice,” he emphasized. “Vast numbers of Americans are involved in administrative adjudicative proceedings every day, and the decisions rendered by ALJs in these proceedings often affect their lives in profound ways.”

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