Judicial Independence Rejected By D.C. Circuit

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs can't sue the agency for alleged violations of his judicial independence.

Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, the acting chief administrative law judge for the department, sued the department in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming his supervisor violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act by interfering with this independence, reports The Blog of Legal Times.

If you were waiting with bated breath for an answer on the merits, tough luck. The appeals court ruled the case on jurisdictional grounds, holding the trial court didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case because Mahoney didn't follow the proper procedures for pursuing his claims under the Civil Service Reform Act.

Writing for the court, Senior D.C. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph said the Civil Service Reform Act barred Mahoney from suing under the Administrative Procedure Act. As a result, Mahoney's underlying claims didn't see the light of day.

Mahoney and his attorney, of course, are none too pleased. They plan on appealing the decision.

"The entire point of the Administrative Procedure Act was to set administrative law judges apart from their agencies and make them independent," Mahoney's attorney Michael Williams said. "This decision appears to say that this independence is just another federal employee working condition. We disagree with that."

The "facts of this case demonstrate that, although the Executive Branch touts ALJs as independent decision makers, federal agencies may with impunity undermine -- directly and indirectly -- the ability of ALJs to decide cases independently," Mahoney said in a statementf provided by the BLT.

How cases were assigned to administrative law judges, for instance, "strikes us as a working condition," Randolph wrote. More broadly, the court found that actions or behavior that allegedly interfered with an administrative law judge's judicial independence "may be said to affect his working conditions."

So what are the implications of this decision?

According to Mahoney, the "law of this case confirms that federal administrative law judges are no different than any other Executive Branch employee, and the Judicial Branch is powerless to accord them any true judicial status."

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