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. ALJs have complete decisional independence, and to protect that independence, have “tenure very similar to that provided for federal judges under the Constitution.” The U.S. Supreme Court stated that the role of an ALJ is “functionally comparable” to that of a federal trial judge.
Administrative Law Judge powers and decisional independence come directly from the Administrative Procedure Act “without the necessity of express agency delegation,” and “an agency is without the power to withhold such powers” from its Administrative Law Judges. ATTORNEY GENERAL’S MANUAL ON THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE ACT 74 (1947), reprinted in ADMINISTRATIVE CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES, FEDERAL ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE SOURCEBOOK 140 (2d ed. 1992); In the Matter of Bilello [Current Transfer Binder] Comm. Fut. L. Rep. (CCH) 26,032 (Mar. 25, 1994) (citing S. REP. NO. 752, 79th Cong., 1st Sess. 21 (1945)); Tourist Enterprises Corporation “ORBIS”, CAB Docket No. 27914, Recommended Decision served October 7, 1977, p. 11, n.9, adopted by CAB Order 78-5-11, dated May 8, 1978, p. 2; “Judicial Response to Misconduct,” p. 114 (ABA Center for Professional Responsibility 1995).
As of December 2014, there were 1,698 ALJs serving in 26 different federal departments, agencies, boards, or commissions. The agency employing the largest number of Administrative Law Judges is the Social Security Administration with 1,436. 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 66, the National Labor Relations Board with 30, and the U.S. Department of Labor with 28. The remaining Administrative Law Judges are employed in agencies with 1 to 14 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 case loads warrant such action.
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, work place 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.
The Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference (FALJC) is a voluntary professional association, organized over 60 years ago for the purpose of improving the administrative judicial process, presenting educational programs to enhance the judicial skills of Administrative Law Judges, and representing the concerns of Federal Administrative Law Judges in matters affecting the administrative judiciary. The membership of the Conference includes Judges from every administrative agency which employs Administrative Law Judges. The Conference sponsors educational and social programs for its members, and from time to time speaks out on behalf of its members on issues relating to the administrative judicial process and issues of concern to our members regarding our status as employees of the United States. Among the educational programs sponsored by the Conference is an annual three-day seminar at which speakers from the judiciary, academia, and the private practice of law speak on a variety of topics related to administrative law and trial practice.
By virtue of its broad membership base, FALJC is the only organization of Judges which can speak for the broad spectrum of Federal Administrative Law Judges. Over the years, the Conference has taken leadership roles in preserving the decisional independence of Administrative Law Judges, supporting measures enhancing due process of law in administrative judicial proceedings, and in supporting improvements in the administrative judicial process. FALJC has traditionally supported legislation which serves the dual goals of enhancing both the reality and the public’s perception of fairness in the administrative judicial process. There can be no due process of law for the litigants, both private citizens and the United States Government, without the reality of fairness, and the system will not function effectively and efficiently without the public perception of fairness.
As part of its mission, FALJC comments on actions taken by the executive branch that may impact its members and the independence of the administrative law judiciary. For instance, FALJC sent a report to the current administration urging certain reforms in the administration of the ALJ scheme. In extensive comments, FALJC also opposed proposals of the previous administration that were determined to endanger ALJ independence and impartiality.