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Is President Trump Politicizing Administrative Law Judges?

President Trump recently issued an executive order that lowers the hiring requirements for the Social Security Administration’s Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and excludes them from competitive hiring practices.  If you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, and your claim is denied initially, you can appeal and have a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge who will make the ultimate decision on your claim.

As a result of this executive order, ALJs will no longer be hired by the civil service process, which was designed to keep bureaucracy impartial.  From now on, ALJs will be selected by heads of the agency. And they do not need the experience previously required to compete for the position.

The order only imposes one requirement, and that is that the ALJ must “possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law.”  Previously, lawyers needed at least seven years’ experience and were vetted by the Office of Personnel Management before they could be appointed an ALJ. Now that agency heads will be allowed to pick minimally qualified lawyers as judges, many in the industry worry that favoritism and politicism will pose a great risk to the impartiality ALJs are supposed to rely on in their rulings.

Marilyn Zahm, who currently serves as president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, stated in response: “They are removing hiring based on merit and replacing it with a system that could lead to abuse and biased decisions.”

In a statement from Representatives Robert C. Scott (VA), Elijah E. Cummings (MD), and David N. Cicilline (RI), the congressmen explained: “When Americans bring disputes before the federal government—whether it’s related to workplace discrimination, protecting organizing activities, or eligibility for Social Security or Medicare benefits—they are entitled to have their cases heard by qualified, independent, and impartial ALJs.  This executive order strips away those basic standards and allows the Trump administration to hand these judicial appointments to friends and political allies who share their ideologies.”