October 09, 2020 National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary

NCALJ Chair's Column

By Hon. H. Alexander Manuel, Arlington, VA

This is my first Chair’s Column for the Judicial Division Record.  It is an honor to sit on the Judicial Division Council along with distinguished colleagues I have respected and admired for many years.  I am only the second African-American Chair for the National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary (NCALJ), and the first African-American from a federal agency.  NCALJ celebrates this watershed, as well as the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution giving voting rights to women.

The theme of our Judicial Division Chair, the Hon. Michelle Childs for this year is “One Judiciary.”  NCALJ is particularly pleased to share this theme since our courts are comprised of judges with many diverse specializations.  From environmental law to nuclear regulatory issues, from disability benefits determinations to veterans claims, from professional liability to labor and employment law, from immigration law to patent and trademark disputes, administrative judges decide a wide variety of sophisticated legal issues.  At the federal level, and in some states, our courtrooms are housed within specific administrative agencies.  This can create an appearance that administrative judges are subject to undue influence from agencies when it comes to decision-making.  The theme of “One Judiciary” reminds us that we engage in the same fact-finding and legal reasoning process that all judges do, and should enjoy analogous decisional independence.

I am reminded of one Respondent in a proceeding who wrote to me and said “how can I expect a fair decision from you since the Department signs your paycheck?”  I have found this to be a common concern among those who appear before us.  What is great about the ABA is that it affords lawyers and judges the opportunity to fashion potential solutions to this seeming conflict of interest.  Here at NCALJ, we are currently working to “stand up” a model for hearing administrative adjudications at the federal level known as a federal central panel.  This panel would move the adjudicatory function out of individual agencies, and into a central panel of judges that would hear cases for all federal agencies.  Similar models have been proposed for many years dating back to the 1930’s.  In fact, they already exist for state agencies in 30 states.  Studies have found that the central panel model can result in significant cost savings and improved decision-making.  We have already succeeded in developing a think-tank of top administrative law scholars, nation-wide, to assist us in this transformative endeavor.

As ambitious as this project is, we are still actively working with the ABA task forces on COVID-19, racial justice, and voter protection.  We have liaisons to each of these task forces and are participating in helping to develop some of the ABA’s exciting and cutting-edge programs.  We have also added NCALJ committee chairs and liaisons from several judicial unions and associations who bring tremendous ideas and considerable diversity to our Conference.  We look forward to serving on the Judicial Division team, as well as hearing from you! 

                                                                                                                                        

Hon. H. Alexander Manuel

Hon. H. Alexander Manuel

2020-2021 NCALJ Chair