WASHINGTON — Representative John B. Larson raised concerns Tuesday that disabled individuals seeking Social Security benefits could be jeopardized by partisan politics under a newly signed executive order by President Donald Trump.
The president on Monday issued an executive order that changes the way in which federal administrative law judges are hired — moving away from a centralized list of applicants the Office of Personnel Management deems qualified to one where individual agencies will hire directly.
The Social Security Administration has about 1,600 administrative judges (another 300 or so are scattered in other agencies) who are responsible for resolving appeals involving retirement benefits, survivor benefits, disability benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. They handle about 700,000 cases each year.
“Americans contribute to Social Security throughout their working lives, and they deserve an impartial hearing by a highly-qualified, independent judge. But under the Administration’s new policy, they will face a judge beholden to ideology and politics rather than one selected through a competitive process designed to ensure qualification and neutrality,” said Larson, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways & Means subcommittee on Social Security.
Larson wants the Trump Administration to reverse the order but that seems unlikely.
The Trump Administration says the executive order was needed to address a recent Supreme Court ruling in Lucia v. Securities Exchange Commission. In a 7-2 decision, the Justices said that under the U.S. Constitution’s Appointments Clause administrative law judges should be appointed by the president or the head of a federal agency because they preside over hearings with “significant authority.”
In that case, they concluded that a judge who was hired through the administrative process was appointed improperly and therefore did not have the authority to fine an investment adviser $300,000. James Sherk, special assistant to the president for domestic policy, said the executive order will ensure that administrative law judges have the required authority to do their jobs.
Sherk noted that there have been hundreds of cases filed seeking to dismiss an administrative law judge ruling where they argue — similar to Lucia — that the judge was improperly appointed.