Administrative law judges (ALJs) preside at administrative hearings in order to resolve disputes between government agencies and people affected by the decisions of those agencies. They serve in many federal agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Social Security Administration, to name but a few. If your initial application for Social Security disability benefits is denied and the reconsideration of your case is also denied, then your case will be heard by an administrative law judge.
ALJs can administer oaths, rule on questions of evidence, hear testimony, and make rulings, very much like a trial judge. They are the only merit-based judges in the United States. Instead of standing for office, ALJs are appointed based on a lengthy written exam and an oral examination taken before an examination panel that includes a representative of the American Bar Association and an active administrative law judge. ALJs are considered to be part of the executive branch of the government, rather than the judicial branch. They are completely independent of the agencies whose cases they hear. They have immunity from prosecution for their actions as judges and are exempt from performance ratings and bonuses alike. They may be fired only for good cause.
Therefore, if your Social Security disability case is brought before an administrative law judge, you can be assured that he or she is qualified to hear your case and that he or she will be an independent third party. The ALJ will review your cumulative file and will rely on the information in that file and on the testimony of medical and vocational experts who appear at the hearing at the request of the ALJ and who are compensated for their services. ALJs also allow you to present new evidence at the hearing. This can work in your favor by strengthening your claim or refuting earlier findings by the Social Security disability examiners.
Social Security Disability hearings are much like trials, with evidence being presented and witnesses being called for testimony, thus it is wise to retain a qualified Social Security disability lawyer, or at least a qualified Social Security disability professional, to assist you at this stage of your disability case. Statistics show that having representation at your hearing will increase your chances of receiving approval of your Social Security disability claim.