Social Security Administration keeping judicial assignments secret

The Social Security Administration has changed its disability appeals process and now keeps the administrative law judge (ALJ) assigned to an appellant's case secret until the appeals hearing begins. Legal advocates for individuals appealing the denials of their Social Security disability claims argue that doing so violates the rights of claimants to due process and creates unnecessary logistical issues.

What is an ALJ and what do they do?

An ALJ plays an important role in the Social Security disability benefits appeals process. Following a disability benefits denial, you can appeal the Social Security Administration's decision.

What happens at an ALJ hearing? An assigned ALJ will generally already be familiar with the facts of your case. He or she will ask questions to determine if you are totally disabled or the extent of your disability. He or she is solely responsible for deciding whether or not to overturn the administration's denial of benefits.

The SSA is now keeping ALJ assignments secret from claimants and their legal representation. Claimants' legal advocates have been baffled by the change, finding no benefit to the administration and several negative implications for disability benefits claimants.

How do secret assignments affect claimants?

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives (NOSSCR) wrote a letter to the commissioners of the SSA and the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review voicing its concerns over the change making ALJ assignments has negative implications for claimants.

NOSSCR argues that concealing the identity of an ALJ is "unheard of" in an appeals process like the one used by the SSA and that doing so is a violation of a claimant's right to due process. Some judges, for example, require claimants to provide extensive testimony and evidence to prove the denial of their claim was inappropriate, while other judges appreciate brief testimony and less extensive evidence. Keeping ALJ assignments secret would prevent claimants' legal representatives to use a judge's style to build their cases.

Keeping ALJs secret also affects procedural logistics. Concealing the identity of an ALJ prevents claimants' legal representatives from requesting an on-the-record decision, since it is impossible to know whom to send the request. Similarly, keeping an ALJ's assignment secret prevents legal representatives from obtaining subpoenas in a streamlined manner.

An experienced attorney can assist with the problems associated with not knowing which judge your case is assigned to. If the Social Security Administration has denied your disability benefits claim, contact and experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you appeal the agency's decision.