Administrative Law Social Security Judges
A federal Administrative Social Security law judge is an member of staff of a federal organization who hold hearings for an agency, and makes decisions in accordance with its policy, and is assured of tenure and decisional independence and freedom from off-the-record agency input, and is generally considered to be subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct in his public and private life. They are appointed by, and work for, the federal government, delivering rulings in many areas of statutory law. Certain Administrative Law Judges, however, also render decisions on Social Security Disability claims at the hearings level.
There can be little doubt that the function of the present federal hearing examiner or administrative law judge is 'functionally equivalent' to that of a judge. His powers are often, if not generally, comparable to those of a trial judge: He may rule on proffers of evidence, regulate the course of the hearing, issue subpoenas, and make or recommend decisions. More importantly, the process of agency negotiation is currently structured so as to assure that the hearing examiner exercises his independent ruling on the evidence before him, free from pressures by the parties or other officials within the agency. Since the securing of fair and competent hearing personnel was viewed as 'the heart of formal administrative adjudication,' Final Report of the Attorney General's Committee on
Administrative Procedure 46 (1941), the Administrative Procedure Act contains a number of provisions designed to guarantee the independence of hearing examiners they may not perform duties not in agreement with their duties as hearing examiners. When conducting a hearing under § 5 of the APA, a hearing examiner is not accountable to, or subject to the supervision or direction of, employees or agents engaged in the performance of investigative or prosecution functions for the agency nor may a hearing examiner confer with any person or party, including other agency officials, concerning a fact at issue in the hearing, unless on notice and opportunity for all parties to participate. In light of these safeguards, we think that the danger of an unconstitutional act by one presiding at an agency hearing is clearly outweighed by the importance of preserving the independent judgment of these men and women. We therefore hold that persons subject to these restraints and performing adjudicatory functions within a federal agency are entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability for their judicial acts. 438 U.S. 478, 513-14.
The Administrative Law Social Security Judge also (1) protects the integrity of the administrative adjudication process in the agency, (2) preserves the public’s confidence in the equality of governmental institutions, and (3) maintains the rule of law. The ALJ is also an important independent decision maker in Social Security cases.