About the Nation’s Administrative Law Judges

Federal Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) perform judicial functions within the Executive Branch of the government. In adjudicating cases before them, ALJs conduct formal, trial-type hearings, make findings of fact and law, apply agency regulations, and issue either initial or recommended decisions. Although federal ALJs must be appointed by their agency head, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, they have complete decisional independence from the agency by which they are employed.

Federal Administrative Law Judges hear cases falling into three broad categories: regulatory cases; entitlement cases; and enforcement cases. Regulatory cases, such as those of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, involve economic regulation of rates and services provided by industries vital to the U.S. economy. Entitlement cases involve adjudication of claims by citizens to benefits provided by law, such as, for example, disability benefits under the Social Security Act, and workmen’s compensation benefits under the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. Enforcement cases involve adjudication of cases brought by various federal agencies against individuals or companies to enforce federal laws and regulations. Three examples are mine safety cases heard by ALJs of the Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, workplace safety cases heard by ALJs of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, and aviation safety cases heard by ALJs of the National Transportation Safety Board.

As of March 2017, there were 1,931 ALJs serving in 29 different federal departments, agencies, boards, or commissions, according to the Office of Personnel Management.  The agency employing the largest number of Administrative Law Judges is the Social Security Administration with 1,655. Three other agencies with large numbers of Administrative Law Judges include the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals with 101, the National Labor Relations Board with 34, and the U.S. Department of Labor with 41. The remaining Administrative Law Judges are employed in agencies with 1 to 15 judges. Although all ALJs are assigned to specific agencies, under a program administered by the Office of Personnel Management, ALJs from one agency can be assigned to hear cases for another agency when caseloads warrant such action.

Scroll to Top