One of the fundamental principles of the American judicial system is that judges are fair and impartial. This applies with as much force in the setting of Social Security disability claims as anywhere else. That is why a recent report from the head of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) alleging that Social Security is unduly interfering with the work of judges is so disturbing.
Serious Allegations By A Judge
Judge Marilyn Zahm is the president of AALJ and she has made some distressing statements about the neutrality of ALJ's.(As a quick reminder, ALJ's hear and decide Social Security disability claims.) In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Judge Zahm said that Social Security definitely pressures ALJ's to deny claims. Per Zahm, the pressure to deny claims greatly increased following the discovery of a scam involving an ALJ in West Virginia that resulted in thousands of questionable favorable decisions.
It is worth remembering that AALJ is a union of sorts and, as such, often in conflict with Social Security over such issues as pay and working conditions. It is possible that Judge Zahm is making inflammatory allegations to gain an advantage. That said, most ALJ's are circumspect and hesitant to speak out at all. Judge Zahm surely knew the effect her comments would have. I suspect she thought carefully before going public with her allegations, I believe her.
Can Claimants Trust The System To Be Fair?
If what Judge Zahm says is true, this is a big problem. It is one thing to lose a Social Security disability claim if the process was fair and legitimate. But, if Social Security disability claimants can no longer believe that the system is
untainted by pressure to deny Social Security disability claims, the whole system founders.
Do you believe Judge Zahm? Have you experienced bias by an ALJ? Let me know.