IFPTE's Featured Local - The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ)
IFPTE - Judicial Council 1
The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) was founded as a professional association in 1971 and since its inception has enjoyed a robust membership. In 1999, AALJ chose to affiliate with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), AFL-CIO, joining other federal judges and professional employees in order to advocate for our agencies and our members.
Today, more than 80 percent of Social Security Administration (SSA) judges are active members of AALJ. There are also a number of associate members who serve as management administrative law judges.
A shared commitment to the highest quality of professionalism in the administrative justice system is the common bond of our members. Our judges view the preservation of fairness in the hearing process for disability claimants as their primary mission. The Associations goals were to defend judicial independence and due process during administrative hearings, and advance professionalism of Administrative Law Judges. The Association participated in several notable court cases involving judicial independence.
Throughout its history, AALJ has consistently extended its advice and expertise to SSA on reforms and improvement plans to better serve the American public. AALJ works closely, as a partner, with SSA to implement innovative technologies that will improve the hearings process and assist judges as we move into the electronic hearing era.
AALJ is the judges' voice before Congress, providing testimony and expertise to improve the administrative judicial system.
AALJ serves as a professional resource for members by providing timely updates on issues impacting the administrative judicial process, offering continuing education opportunities and facilitating collaboration amongst judges throughout the country.
Importance of ALJs
Today, over thirty federal agencies enlist the services of about 1,600 administrative law judges, and ALJ's handle cases that go to the heart of the economic and social structure of our nation. Typically, these cases present complex legal and factual issues involving laws and regulations related to subject matter such as agriculture, banking, energy, labor, transportation, Medicare and Social Security.
The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) represents over 1,200 of these judges, who work within the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS). Social Security Administrative Law Judges function in a high volume court system with the administrative law judges, unlike judges in other agencies, having the responsibility to develop a complete record, protect the interests of the trust fund and render a decision based on the evidence in the hearing record.
The SSA administrative law judges, the largest corps of judges in the federal judiciary, presided over 550,000 cases in 2011. Their decisions impact the lives of millions of Americans every year. The average lifetime award for each disability claim is in excess of $250,000 per case and the potential lifetime payout of all cases adjudicated by administrative law judges in SSA exceeds $80 billion dollars per year. Serving the public in about 160 hearing offices around the country, administrative law judges play an important role in overseeing the enforcement of federal law and the distribution of government benefits.
For most Americans, if they are to have a day in federal court, it will be before an administrative law judge.
Meeting the Challenges Ahead
"Our judges are achieving a record high productivity rate... with historically low levels of staff support."
With state and private disability insurance systems becoming more restricted - or disappearing altogether - there is more and more pressure on the Social Security disability program.
In FY 2011, SSA received nearly 3.3 million disability claims, with a backlog of more than 800,000 Social Security disability cases. In the recent past, some workers who appealed a denial of benefits waited more than a year for a hearing. That is clearly unacceptable for a process that is so vital to so many people. Hard work by the SSA ALJs has substantially decreased this wait time.
If a claimant wins his or her appeal, the average cost of lifetime benefits is approximately $300,000. Should a claimant fail to prevail, the family may be facing financial ruin. With so much at stake, ALJs must not be pressured into cutting corners or making hasty decisions.
ALJs are working diligently to reduce the current backlog. Disability cases, however, which typically involve voluminous medical and vocational evidence, can only be properly resolved when the judge reviews a complete record (which may contain thousands of pages of evidence); holds a full and fair hearing; and reaches a correct decision after applying the law.
SSA ALJs can't do the job alone. SSA's disability courts must be staffed and managed properly, and provided with the resources necessary to reduce the backlog.
For most Americans, if they ever have a day in a Federal court, it will before a Judge hearing a Social Security claim. AALJ's members and the leaders of AALJ believe that every claimant is entitled to due process of law - and are also aware of the responsibility to protect the integrity of the Social Security Trust Fund.
AALJ's members work to maintain the proper balance in their hearing rooms, just as the AALJ works to balance competing demands within the Social Security Administration, before Congress, and in the court of public opinion.
"If management starts encroaching on our independence, such as placing unrealistic goals on judges, it impairs our ability to conduct a full and fair due process hearing."