Many Americans have applied for government benefits at some point. Whether securing unemployment, Medicare or social security disability, an agency official will review your application and either approve or deny the requested benefit. These same officials do not rule over appeals, however — that duty falls to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
An ALJ is an independent judicator for appeals and other legal matters concerning government bodies. These independent judges hold a unique position in government administration.
Who can become an ALJ?
Administrative law judges preside over administrative hearings, but do have expansive legal powers and duties. Judges are appointed under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) of 1946. Lawyers who wish to become an ALJ must complete a written examination and oral examination before a panel. Based on one’s merit, the panel can approve applicants as an Administrative Law Judge for life.
Though ALJs serve specific government organizations, they do not report to those organizations. The APA strives to grant ALJs independence to issue clear and bias-free rulings during appeals and hearings.
The powers of the ALJ
An Administrative Law Judge has many of the same powers as courtroom judges. The major difference between the two is that ALJs serve as judge and trier of fact. In a courtroom, a jury often hears the evidence and issues a ruling based on internal discussions and votes. In administrative hearings, the ALJ will hear the evidence and make the decision themselves, known as a bench trial.
Since ALJs serve as the single decision point for appeals and other administrative rulings, those making their case find more success working with a lawyer familiar with government agencies, like the Social Security Administration.
The importance of legal assistance for appeals
Every state-run agency defines the rules for its administrative hearings. If you hope to appeal a recent denial for a benefit like social security disability, you will have more success working with a lawyer familiar with the unique methods and practices of West Virginia’s Social Security Administration.