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Supreme Court Opens Way for More Appeal Arguments

In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled last month that disability claimants do not need to raise constitutional challenges to the appointment of a judge during their hearing.

The ruling opens the door for disability representatives to make such challenges during the difficult and lengthy appeals process.

This latest case, Carr et al. v. Saul, is related to a controversial 2018 decision, Lucia v. SEC that held that administrative agencies used an unconstitutional process to hire administrative law judges. The Trump administration reacted by having the president retroactively appoint all sitting judges hearing Social Security cases, but the issue has now been often litigated on appeal, with some courts ruling that any challenges to whether a judge is properly appointed must be brought up during the hearing.

In an opinion that all justices joined at least in part, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that claimants did not have to challenge a judge’s appointment during a hearing because Social Security has no regulation requiring them to do so.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that imposing such a requirement on claimants makes no sense because disability hearings are intended to be informal and nonadversarial.

While the recent decision is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the disability process, it provides a powerful tool for disability claimants and their representatives seeking to overturn unfavorable decisions. Carr can now be used to argue that there is no requirement to raise almost any specific issue at a hearing, allowing claimants to raise new issues on appeal that given them a better chance of receiving a favorable decision.

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