How are Administrative Law Judges Hired?

Posted September 14, 2018 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

ALJPeople often wonder how the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) selects the Judges to hear their disability claim. Up until July 10, 2018, Administrative Law Judges (“ALJ”) were hired through a competitive process that was conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. It involved an application and series of online and in-person tests that took place in the D.C. area, followed by a structured interview. The process was lengthy and could take up to a full year. Once all the results were in, the ALJ candidates would receive a score. If the score was high enough, the candidate would be placed on an ALJ register and potentially receive an interview at one of the Federal agencies looking to hire an ALJ, if the location of the position matched a location that the ALJ candidate selected as an area he or she would be willing to serve.

This all changed on July 10 2018. On said date, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order excepting ALJs from competitive service and assigning the hiring process of ALJs to the individual agencies where they would serve. Unfortunately, as the Office of Personnel Management has historically competitively screened the ALJ candidates, the individual agencies do not yet have a process in place for hiring ALJs at this time. The fear is that this change may impact the already exceedingly long backlogs at the hearing offices.

This significant order was issued at least in part due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission, No. 17-130 (June 21, 2018) which questioned whether ALJs had been properly appointed in line with the Appointment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The new concern is that replacing the hiring of ALJs with a noncompetitive or meritless process will open the door to a political cronyism.

A bill has been introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to restore a competitive process that would be overseen by the Office of Personnel Management, but defer to the Lucia decision by requiring that an agency head make the final appointment of the ALJ.

All we know for now is that ALJ candidates who have already been on the hiring register received emails earlier this week letting them know that the register was now closed. Other than that, there is speculation as to the next steps the agencies will take to hire new judges and to whether the proposed bill will get the traction it needs to restore the ALJ hiring process back to a competitive format.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®