Cantwell, Collins Introduce Bill to Protect Impartiality, Independence of Administrative Law Judges

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced legislation to protect the impartiality of administrative law judges by ensuring that these judges are selected for their qualifications and competence, and not their political views. 

Like courtroom judges, administrative law judges hold hearings, find facts, and render decisions in entitlement, regulatory, and enforcement cases. Like courtroom judges, they need to be highly qualified, impartial, independent, and free from political interference. There are 1,900 administrative law judges in independent agencies and executive departments. They hear cases involving everything from whether people are entitled to benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and worker’s compensation to stock fraud claims and they approve license applications. 

Previously each agency hired its own administrative law judges from a list of qualified candidates provided by the Office of Personnel Management. However, at the end of July, President Trump issued an executive order to reclassify administrative law judges, which could allow for these judges to be selected on the basis of their political views rather than my their qualifications, merit, and independence. 

“Administrative law judges make decisions every day that affect people’s lives like Social Security and Medicare benefits, workers’ compensation claims, and even licenses for radio stations and nuclear power plants. We must ensure these judges are fair, impartial, and qualified,” said Senator Cantwell. 

“Administrative law judges are tasked with making important decisions every day, they are intensely vetted and put through a competitive application process before being hired,” said Senator Collins. “Our bipartisan legislation would ensure that administrative law judges remain well qualified and impartial, while this crucial process remains nonpartisan and fair.” 

Specifically, the Cantwell-Collins bill restores administrative law judges to the “competitive service” – a type of federal civil service based on a performance examination administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). This competitive process ensures that administrative law judges are selected on their qualifications and competence, rather than political appointees who can use whatever criteria they want. At the same time, the bill codifies the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lucia v. SEC that the final appointment be made by the agency head and not lower-agency officials and adds that this appointment can only be made either from a list provided by OPM or with the approval of OPM.