SCOTUS Opinion: Social Security Administration Administrative Law Judges Subject To Appointments Clause Challenges

In Carr v. Saul, individuals who were denied Social Security benefits after determinations by the SSA’s administrative law judges (ALJs) sought to challenge those results by arguing that the ALJs were not properly appointed under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution as analyzed under Lucia v. SEC, 585 U.S. ___ (2018), which held that SEC ALJs appointed similarly to the SSA’s ALJs were void. Multiple federal courts of appeal then held that those individuals could not obtain judicial review because they did not first raise those challenges during the administrative proceedings.

The Court, in a unanimous decision by Justice Sotomayor, reversed, holding that the challengers could raise their Appointments Clause arguments in federal court, and were not required to first raise that issue with the ALJs. The question was whether the administrative proceedings before the SSA ALJs were adversarial in nature. The more those proceedings were adversarial like a trial court, the more that the Court would impose an issue-exhaustion requirement before any federal court could hear the issue. The majority found that the ALJ proceedings were not adversarial in nature, and that the petitioners’ constitutional claims could not be properly heard by SSA ALJs. Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Barrett, filed a concurrence noting that the SSA proceedings were plainly non-adversarial, and would have gone no further. Justice Breyer filed a concurrence only agreeing that the claims did not need to be raised before the ALJs because they were constitutional in nature.

A link to the opinion is here: