Until recently, a Social Security Disability applicant would be notified of which administrative law judge would be hearing their case when they received notice of their disability hearing. The SSA has now decided that the identity of the judges who are hearing these cases will no longer be included in the notices that are sent to applicants and that the identity of the judge will be kept secret until the actual hearing itself. According to the SSA, this new ALJ policy has been implemented so that lawyers and applicants cannot “shop” for a judge who will be more likely to provide them with a positive hearing outcome. The problem is, the ramifications of this new policy go well beyond an applicant’s ability to “shop” for a more lenient judge and may actually go as far as to rob an applicant of their fundamental rights.
Previously, when an applicant and their attorney were notified of which administrative law judge would be hearing their case, they would be able to tailor their case specifically towards the needs of that judge. Not all judges view cases in the same way and each judge has his or her own strengths. In order to present a disability case properly, a Social Security Disability attorney would need to know which judge would be overseeing the hearing in order to present the case properly for that specific judge. By keeping the judge’s identity a secret, the applicants and lawyers have no way of knowing exactly how the case should be prepared for the hearing.
In addition, because the identities of the judges are now being kept secret, a few more questions come into play. For example, if a Social Security Disability applicant and/or their attorney wish to request an “on-the-record” decision, how do they know which judge to direct this request to? How do they know which judge they should be submitting any necessary correspondence to? The truth is, the secrecy of a judge’s identity is a severe disservice to Social Security Disability applicants and it goes against everything that the court systems in the United States have previously practiced.
No matter what court of law a citizen is dealing with, they always know which judge their case is being assigned to. Since the implementation of this new ALJ policy, the SSA courts are the only exception to this rule and one must question if the rule violates certain fundamental rights.
For now, Social Security Disability applicants and their attorneys must deal with the new ALJ policy and prepare their cases as thoroughly as possible, trying to ensure that the case meets the needs of every single judge that it could possibly be assigned to. There are, however, many advocate groups who are fighting to have this rule revised. Hopefully they will be successful and in the future Social Security Disability applicants and their Social Security attorneys will once again know which judge will be assigned to their case when they receive notice of their Social Security Disability hearing.