The American Bar Association has been advocating for increased independence for administrative law judges (ALJs) in the United States for many years. On September 5, the ABA continued that effort when it filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold for-cause removal protections granted by Congress to ALJs in agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), whose heads enjoy similar protection.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), ALJs across federal agencies have enjoyed statutory removal protection. In May 2022, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that those removal protections violated U.S. Constitution’s Article II’s requirement that the president be able to ensure that the laws be faithfully executed. The Supreme Court granted the SEC’s petition for review of the 5th Circuit’s decision. The ABA’s amicus brief, in support of the SEC on that question, notes that the association has a “long history of supporting decisional independence for judges, including all administrative adjudicators.”
Administrative adjudicators are federal agency ALJs who conduct due process proceedings in accordance with the APA, while administrative judges (AJs), who are not ALJs, largely conduct proceedings pursuant to federal statutes outside the APA. AJs are not covered by APA protections. However, both types of adjudicators are hired and employed by the agencies for which they decide cases.