Why Social Security Disability Judges’ Names Shouldn’t Be a Secret

If an application for Social Security disability benefits is denied, the applicant can request that the application be reviewed by an administrative law judge (ALJ). In some cases, the ALJ may respond to a written argument submitted by an attorney for social security disability without conducting a hearing. In other situations, the ALJ may request a social security disability hearing at which you and your attorney for social security disability must be present.

During the hearing, the judge will conduct an independent review of the social security disability claim, whether it is a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or a claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).A medical and/or vocational expert may also be requested to be present at the hearing. Applicants and their attorneys have the opportunity to argue their case before the ALJ and to cross examine any witnesses and experts, including any medical or vocational examiners.

ALJs working for the SSA are essentially appointed for life and enjoy wide discretion when deciding whether to award or deny benefits, with vast disparities in outcomes and hearing processes. Unfortunately, certain judges tend to deny claims at an extraordinarily higher rate than other judges. The SSA suspects that because of the reputation of certain applicant-unfriendly ALJs, applicants and their attorneys seek dismissal of the claim if a harsh ALJ will preside over their claim and then re-apply for a new hearing in the hopes of obtaining a more favorable ALJ. This practice is known as “forum shopping.”

Since December 2011, the Social Security Administration has kept the name of the administration law judge presiding over the appeal of a denied Social Security disability claim a secret from the applicant and his or her attorney. The SSA justified its new position under the guise that it would prevent Social Security disability applicants from trying to “forum shop” their appeals to the most lenient judges.

While the disparity between lenient and harsh ALJs needs to be addressed and forum shopping can be an administrative problem, keeping the names of the judges a secret does nothing to solve these problems. In fact, keeping the ALJ’s names a secret only hinders the process and places applicants at an unfair disadvantage.

Each judge has his or her own procedures and specific standards. Accordingly, it is crucial that applicants and their attorneys know the name of the judge presiding over his or her disability claim appeal so that they can adequately prepare for the hearing. When the judge’s name is kept a secret, applicants and their attorneys are placed at an unfair disadvantage – all without any evidence that the measure does anything to combat the problem of forum shopping.

The Social Security disability review process can be incredibly confusing, but a knowledgeable social security disability attorney, like the SSD of Ankin Law Offices, LLC, can be invaluable at helping applicants navigate the maze of state and federal laws, regulations and procedures. null our office at (800) 442-6546 to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how our Chicago disability attorneys can help you with the Social Security disability process.