chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
April 08, 2022 National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary

NCALJ Chair's Column

By Hon. John C. Allen, IV, Chicago, IL

In some respects, I know that I’m preaching to the choir, but it is my hope these sentiments will energize some of us to pass it along to others outside the American Bar Association and encourage those folks to join and enhance the prestige of the ABA with their membership and commitment. A few weeks ago, NCALJ held our regular Executive Committee meeting. There was nothing special on the agenda and I went into the meeting wondering if the meeting would last even half of the scheduled time. It turns out that I need not have worried. During one of the committee reports, a friendly, yet vigorous, discussion ensued regarding the structure of the federal administrative adjudication system and the difference between Administrative Law Judges and Administrative Judges. Concurrently, we were trying to understand the need and relevance for a single, recognized source to set forth the parameters of professional conduct for the under-valued civil servants.

NCALJ has been wrestling with the concept of a federal central panel for over three decades, with many successes and setbacks. This year, NCALJ has been blessed to have the support of the Judicial Division (JD) and its Chair, Chris Browning, in establishing a Task Force that brings in a wide variety of stakeholders to the table to understand the risk to judicial or decisional independence borne by our federal brethren and attempt to identify solutions to protect our system of justice from inappropriate intervention into the process of rendering fair decisions. The Task Force has ably continued its work over the past few months and the sessions have been informative and, quite frankly, powerful. Several presenters have appeared before the task force to provide historical, practical, and statistical information on the issue.  These presentations have helped the Task Force members gain a deeper understanding of the issues.

NCALJ is fortunate to have a strong team spearheading our Programs and Education initiatives. To help our membership gain the same level of understanding about the decisional independence issue as the Task Force members, three programs have been sponsored throughout the year. These programs provide an independent study on the nature of a central panel, as well as a voice for those groups that oppose a central panel and those that support a central panel. Additionally, NCALJ is proud to sponsor programs that are featured through the JD. As always, we are appreciative of the time, effort and support given to NCALJ by the staff and leadership of the JD as we work to develop a meaningful impact on our legal community

Simultaneously, NCALJ has established a separate committee to evaluate the Model Rules of Professional Conduct for Federal Administrative Law Judges. The last time these rules were examined was in the late 1990s. While there are several other model rules documents that are similar, NCALJ believes that the single, best source should be a document developed through the ABA process to provide interested parties with confidence that the writing, screening, and review process provided the highest quality scrutiny. That committee has spent a great deal of time examining prior editions and researching federal law to achieve their goals.

NCALJ has been active with fellow organizations to maintain open and consistent communication with our peers. We have been present in many current and critical issues; particularly, the issues surrounding Immigration Judges. Please take the time to read the recent Judges’ Journal that contains several articles written by NCALJ members. NCALJ also maintains liaisons to several entities and sections, such as the American Conference of the United States, the Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section, and the Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, to name a few.

Here's the thing. Being a judge can be a lonely, even isolating profession. The nature of the job is that we are restricted in our contacts and our actions. That’s the life we chose and I’m sure none of us have any regrets. The other side of this coin, though, is that human nature requires interaction with others. And organizations such as the Judicial Division or NCALJ allows us the freedom to engage, to converse, and even to argue passionately (but respectfully) with others. That meeting a few weeks ago was one of several where we, as individuals and as judges, were able to let down the façade and engage our curious true nature. Where we could share our views, relate our experiences and, most importantly, learn from each other as we learned to do as lawyers. Being an attorney is, by its nature, a social profession. The ABA and the Judicial Division are important because they allow us to converse with other lawyers, judges, and leaders in an environment where the basics of our profession are understood and are an inherent part of the environment. You simply can’t get that anywhere else. It is an absolute joy to have a conversation about transgender rights with an Administrative Judge from California, or talk about the issues of a Central Panel with former Chief ALJs from Florida or North Carolina, or have a casual lunch with a Court of Appeals Justice from Arizona, or learn about the oppression of Turkish judges from a Turkish judge who risks everything to provide that knowledge. That is what makes this organization so special – the freedom to experience the knowledge of our peers in a nurturing environment. 

John C. Allen, IV

2021-2022 Chair, National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.