National Committee opposes Trump executive order politicizing appointment of administrative law judges

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security heard testimony today about the Trump administration’s new executive order affecting the selection of administrative law judges (ALJs).  The National Committee has come out strongly against the executive order, which could lead to the politicization of the roughly 1,700 ALJs who decide Social Security disability claims.

The president’s executive order changes the selection of ALJs from a merit-based system to a political one, compromising their judicial independence and undermining due process for people with disabilities.  National Committee President and CEO Max Richtman issued the following warning today:

“The Trump administration will likely appoint judges who share its hostility to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  Appointing judges who are biased against SSDI is yet another way to cut disabled Americans’ benefits.  Claimants are entitled to have their cases adjudicated by neutral, fair-minded judges.” – Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

As a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Social Security Task Force, the National Committee contributed to testimony given to Congress today by fellow co-chair Lisa Ekman of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR).

“ALJs hired through a politicized process are likely to be less independent from political pressure. These newly hired ALJs might feel compelled to decide matters before them in a manner preferred by the appointing agency, rather than in a neutral way that best applies the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act.” – Testimony of Lisa Ekman, Co-Chair, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force

As we wrote in a post last week, politically-appointed ALJs could reject valid disability claims simply because the administration doesn’t support the program.  The president’s 2019 budget would slash SSDI by $64 billion over ten years.  His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, famously said last year that he doesn’t consider SSDI to be part of Social Security even though “Social Security” is part of its name.

According to the CCD testimony, the Social Security Administration has yet to create policies for hiring ALJs under the new executive order.  As it now stands, the only qualification for these politically appointed ALJs is that they have passed the bar – an astonishingly low threshold for judges who will decide the fates of millions of disabled workers.

“We do not know what if any additional qualifications will be required or whether knowledge of the administrative process and litigation/hearing experience will continue to be required for newly hired ALJs under this new hiring authority. The Task Force urges SSA to put in place hiring procedures that protect the independence of ALJs and continue to require newly hired ALJs to have knowledge and experience that qualify them to make these decisions of critical importance to people with disabilities.” – Testimony of Lisa Ekman, Co-Chair, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force