|September 21, 2008|
Educational Resources: ALJs
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES ARE EMPLOYED BY THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
The Federal government consists of three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The Federal judges you hear most about are employed by the judicial branch. They are district court, court of appeals and U.S. Supreme Court judges.
The executive branch, however, also employs judges, who are referred to as "administrative law judges" or "ALJs".
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES CONDUCT HEARINGS ON A VARIETY OF LABOR-RELATED MATTERS
Federal agencies under the executive branch are required in many cases to afford a hearing to companies or individuals who are affected by a government action such as a denial of benefits or a finding that a law was violated. For example, if a coal miner applies for black lung benefits, and the claims examiner determines that the coal miner is entitled to benefits, the coal company that would have to pay those benefits may ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge. Similarly, if the coal miner was denied benefits by the claims examiner, he or she may ask for a hearing.
In the Department of Labor, administrative law judge hearings are available in regard to claims for black lung benefits and longshore workers' compensation, child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, nuclear and environmental whistleblower complaints, whistleblower complaints relating to commercial trucking, civil rights requirements and wage disputes relating to federal contracts, employer's use of lie detector tests, federal union elections, disputes relating to job training programs, certain aspects of employee retirement funds, certain labor-related immigration programs, and a variety of other labor laws.
Not all labor-related disputes, however, are heard by the Department of Labor's Office of Administrative Law Judges. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and the National Labor Relations Board are independent agencies that conduct hearings in matters relating to labor.
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE HEARINGS ARE LIKE TRIALS, BUT WITHOUT A JURY
The administrative law judge conducts a hearing much like any other judge. Thus, witnesses may testify, the proceedings are transcribed by a court reporter, and lawyers may submit briefs and motions. The biggest difference between administrative law judge hearings and trials before a federal district court judge or a state court judge is that there is no jury in an administrative hearing. Rather, the administrative law judge hears the witnesses, considers the evidence and legal arguments submitted, and renders a decision based upon the record made at the hearing.
INDEPENDENT DECISION MAKING
Since administrative law judges are employees of the agency, Congress was concerned that they may be perceived as being prone to making decisions in favor of that agency. Thus, the Administrative Procedure Act includes provisions that give administrative law judges protections from improper influences and ensure independence when conducting formal proceedings, interpreting the law, and applying agency regulations in the course of administrative hearings. Thus, administrative law judges are not subject to agency efficiency ratings, promotions or demotions; their compensation is established by the Office of Personnel Management independent of agency recommendations; they may only be disciplined after good cause is shown before the Merit Systems Protection Board.
ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIAL REVIEW OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE DECISIONS
Most administrative law judge decisions are subject to further review within the agency, although in a few types of cases, the administrative law judge's decision is the final decision of the agency. In the Department of Labor, black lung and longshore cases may be reviewed by the Benefits Review Board (BRB), while most other types of decisions are reviewed by the Administrative Review Board (ARB). The decisions of the administrative law judge and the BRB or ARB may then be appealed to the Federal courts in the judicial branch of the Federal government.
For general information about ALJs and the Administrative Procedure Act, see our ALJ/APA Collection.
You can learn more about federal courts in the executive branch at the U.S. Federal Courts Home Page.