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MLIVE ASK THE LAWYER COLUMN

SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY

Q. My claim for Social Security Disability was denied and I appealed by requesting a hearing. Who will decide my appeal?

A. Federal administrative law judges serve as judges deciding these appeals. Historically, these judges obtained these positions through a merit-based selection process. To secure these positions, all judges had to establish they were lawyers with certain knowledge and experience in Social Security law, and these judges had civil service protections that ensured judicial independence to make decisions free from outside political pressures. On July 10th, President Trump issued an executive order that eliminated all mandatory qualifications for lawyers to serve as administrative law judges. The Trump Administration has not explained the terms of employment which it expects ALJs in the future to work under. Due process requires that impartial judges free of political pressures decide these cases without fear of adverse consequences. Trump’s executive order unfortunately threatens the judicial independence of the administrative law judges and the integrity of the Social Security system. It remains to be seen what Congress, the Supreme Court or the voters will do about it.

–Robert J. MacDonald (August 2018)