The 2018 Supreme Court decision Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission received little attention from most media outlets when it was handed down, but it’s led to a lot of headaches for Social Security disability attorneys.
Lucia held that administrative agencies, including Social Security, could not use internal processes to hire the administrative law judges that decide cases and that under the Constitution, these judges could only be appointed by the president. Essentially, all of the decisions made by roughly 1,500 Social Security ALJs were rendered invalid overnight.
President Trump attempted to rectify this situation by signing an executive order that simply appointed all currently employed ALJs, but this still hasn’t completely resolved legal challenges to whether ALJs have been properly appointed.
It’s something that lawyers continue to challenge when disability cases are appealed to federal court, and it’s led to a circuit split. Some courts have held that if a claimant wishes to make an appointments clause challenge, it needs to be brought up while the case is still pending before the Social Security Administration. Other courts have said that it is proper to make this challenge once the case is appealed to federal court.
In early November, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two consolidated cases on the issue to resolve the circuit split.
Oral arguments and a decision are not expected until 2021, but whichever way the Court goes, this case could have far-reaching consequences for Social Security disability practice, potentially offering many claimants a better chance at having unfavorable decisions overturned.