Administrative law judge
|Administrative law in
common law jurisdictions
|Administrative law in
civil law jurisdictions
An administrative law judge (ALJ) in the United States is an official who presides at an administrative trial-type hearing to resolve a dispute between a government agency and someone affected by a decision of that agency. The ALJ is usually the initial trier of fact and decision maker. ALJs can administer oaths, take testimony, rule on questions of evidence, and make factual and legal determinations. ALJ-controlled proceedings are comparable to a bench trial, and, depending upon the agency's jurisdiction, may have complex multi-party adjudication, as is the case with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or simplified and less formal procedures, as is the case with the Social Security Administration.
Federal appointment and tenure
The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) requires that federal ALJs be appointed based on scores achieved in a comprehensive testing procedure, including a four-hour written examination and an oral examination before a panel that includes an Office of Personnel Management representative, an American Bar Association representative, and a sitting federal ALJ. Federal ALJs are the only merit-based judicial corps in the United States.
In American administrative law, ALJs are Article I judges under the U.S. Constitution. As such, they do not exercise full judicial power, essentially, the power over life, liberty, and property. However, Article I judges and courts are not constrained to rendering opinions for only a "case or controversy" before them, and may render advisory opinions on a purely prospective basis, such as, e.g., Congressional reference cases assigned to the Court of Federal Claims. Agency ALJs do not have the power to offer such advisory opinions, as it would be in violation of the power afforded them under the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. §557. Unlike the agency, ALJs are not policy or rule makers.
ALJs are generally considered to be part of the executive branch, not the judicial branch, but the APA is designed to guarantee the decisional independence of ALJs. They have absolute immunity from liability for their judicial acts and are triers of fact "insulated from political influence". Federal administrative law judges are not responsible to, or subject to, the supervision or direction of employees or agents of the federal agency engaged in the performance of investigative or prosecution functions for the agency. Ex parte communications are prohibited. ALJs are exempt from performance ratings, evaluation, and bonuses. Agency officials may not interfere with their decision making, and administrative law judges may be discharged only for good cause based upon a complaint filed by the agency with the Merit Systems Protection Board established and determined after an APA hearing on the record before an MSPB ALJ. Only ALJs receive these statutory protections; "hearing officers" or "trial examiners", with delegated hearing functions, are not similarly protected by the APA.
Authority and review of federal ALJs
The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the role of a federal administrative law judge is "functionally comparable" to that of an Article III judge. An ALJ's powers are often, if not generally, comparable to those of a trial judge: The ALJ may issue subpoenas, rule on proffers of evidence, regulate the course of the hearing, and make or recommend decisions. ALJs are limited as they have no power to sanction unless a statute provides such a power. Instead, the ALJ may refer a matter to an Article III Court to seek enforcement or sanctions. The process of agency adjudication is currently structured so as to assure that ALJs exercise independent judgment on the evidence before them, free from pressures by the parties or other officials within the agency.
The procedure for reviewing an ALJ's decision varies depending upon the agency. Agencies generally have an internal appellate body, with some agencies having a Cabinet secretary decide the final internal appeals. Moreover, after the internal agency appeals have been exhausted, a party may have the right to file an appeal in the state or federal courts. Relevant statutes usually require a party to exhaust all administrative appeals before they are allowed to sue an agency in court.
Unlike federal ALJs, whose powers are guaranteed by federal statute, state ALJs have widely varying power and prestige. In some state law contexts, ALJs have almost no power; their decisions are accorded practically no deference and become, in effect, recommendations. In some cities, ALJs are at-will employees of the agency, making their decisional independence potentially questionable. In some agencies, ALJs dress like lawyers in business suits, share offices, and hold hearings in ordinary conference rooms. In other agencies (particularly the Division of Workers' Compensation of the California Department of Industrial Relations), ALJs wear robes like Article III judges, are referred to as "Honorable" and "Your Honor", work in private chambers, hold hearings in special "hearing rooms" that look like small courtrooms, and have court clerks who swear in witnesses.
Professional organizations that represent federal ALJs include the Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference, the Association of Administrative Law Judges, which represents only Social Security ALJs, and the Forum of United States Administrative Law judges. Professional organizations that include both state and federal ALJs include the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, the ABA National Conference of Administrative Law Judiciary, and the National Association of Hearing Officials.
List of U.S. federal agencies with ALJs
Most of the agencies below have only a few dozen ALJs. In 2013, the Social Security Administration had by far the largest number of ALJs at over 1,400, who adjudicate over 700,000 cases each year. The average SSA hearing process occurs over a period of 373 days.
- Coast Guard
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Health and Human Services/Department Appeals Board
- Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Department of the Interior
- Department of Justice/Executive Office for Immigration Review
- Department of Labor
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Federal Communications Commission
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
- Federal Labor Relations Authority
- Federal Maritime Commission
- Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
- Federal Trade Commission
- Food and Drug Administration
- International Trade Commission
- Merit Systems Protection Board
- National Labor Relations Board
- National Transportation Safety Board
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
- Office of Financial Institution Adjudication
- Patent and Trademark Office
- Postal Service
- Securities and Exchange Commission
- Small Business Administration
- Social Security Administration
Other federal agencies may request the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to lend them Administrative Law Judges from other federal agencies for a period of up to six months.
List of state departments and agencies with ALJs
Some states, such as California, follow the federal model of having a separate corps of ALJs attached to each agency that uses them. Others, such as New Jersey, have consolidated all ALJs together into a single agency that holds hearings on behalf of all other state agencies. This type of state adjudicatory agency is called a "central panel agency". Many states have a central panel agency, but the agency does not handle all the hearings for every state agency.
- Alabama Department of Revenue
- California Department of Consumer Affairs
- California Department of Health Services
- California Department of Industrial Relations
- California Department of Social Services
- California Employment Development Department
- California Public Utilities Commission
- Florida Division of Administrative Hearings
- Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings
- Illinois Human Rights Commission
- Industrial Commission of Arizona
- Iowa Department of Corrections
- Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals-Division of Administrative Hearings (does hearings for some but not all state agencies)
- Iowa Workforce Development Department
- Louisiana Division of Administrative Law
- Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings
- Maryland Public Service Commission (hearings for public utility cases)
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
- Michigan State Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules
- Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (does hearings for some but not all state agencies)
- New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (does hearings for all state agencies)
- New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (does hearings for all city agencies)
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
- New York State Department of Labor
- New York State Department of State
- New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
- Pennsylvania Department of Insurance
- Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Workers' Compensation
- Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
- Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission
- South Carolina Administrative Law Court (does hearings for all state agencies)
- Texas Department of Banking
- Texas Finance Commission
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission
- Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (does hearings for only some state agencies)
- Traffic Violations Bureau of New York State DMV
- Washington Office of Administrative Hearings (does hearings for all state agencies plus some local ones)
- 5 U.S.C. § 556
- Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 514 
- Federal Maritime Commission v. S.C. State Ports Authority, 535 U.S. 743, 756 (2002)
- Ackman, Dan. "The Price of Justice". New York Times, Feb. 12, 2006
- Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference
- Ohlemacher, Stephen (April 20, 2013). "Judges sue Social Security over 'quotas'". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida). pp. 3A.