The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-3 Thursday that administrative law judges (ALJs) are “officers of the law” under the Appointments Clause [US Constitution], reversing the lower court decision that ALJs are federal employees.
The Appointments Clause dictates that “officers of the law” must be appointed by the president, “Courts of Law,” or “Heads of Departments.”
In Lucia v. SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission had staff members select ALJs instead of the department head selecting the judges. An ALJ found the defendant in violation of the Investment Advisors Act. The defendant appealed the finding on the grounds that the ALJ had been unconstitutionally appointed.
The court ruled that the judges had been unconstitutionally appointed.
Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan cited case precedent that stated that the officers are distinguished from employees based on the length of their duties and the authority that they have. Kagan also relied on a similar case in which the court ruled that special trial judges (STJs) in the US Tax Court were officers of the law, because STJs hold a “continuing office” and “exercise significant discretion.” The same is true of ALJs.
Kagan wrote that the defendant should be given another hearing.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued “Commission ALJs are not officers because they lack final decisionmaking authority.”