Federal Judge in Georgia Declares DOJ Administrative  Law Judges’ Authority to be Unconstitutional 

Walmart Blocks DOJ Proceedings Over Unconstitutional Authority – Orr & Reno

There’s been an interesting development in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Statesboro Division. In Walmart vs King, published on March 25, 2024, Chief Justice J. Randal Hall granted the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment “to stop administrative proceedings in a federal agency that are being conducted by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who is unconstitutionally shielded from the President’s supervision.”

Walmart questioned the constitutional authority of Administrative Law Judge Jean King, the Defendant — and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) — to make such a ruling. Without authority, the underlying ALJ proceedings would be unlawful.

According to the Plaintiff, ALJ Jean King “is an executive officer whom the Attorney General may not remove except ‘for good cause’ as established and determined by the Merit System Protective Board.” Walmart asserted that “OCAHO ALJs are unconstitutionally insulated from presidential control” and that “the remedy for this unconstitutional scheme is to enjoin the Underlying ALJ Proceedings and declare them unlawful.”

Following a discussion of the powers granted to the President by Article II of the United States Constitution, including the “powers of appointment and removal of executive officers” — and the legal precedent that has shaped the role and function of OCAHO ALJs through the years, Justice Hall determined that OCAHO ALJs are performing their role “without the supervision required by Article II.”

The Court finds the multilevel protection from removal present for the OCAHO ALJs is contrary to Article II and contrary to the executive power of the President. The current statutory scheme unconstitutionally subverts the President’s ability to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed — as well as the public’s ability to pass judgment on his efforts. It is, therefore, incompatible with the Constitution’s separation of power and cannot stand.

Judge Hall went on to consider and then reject the possibility of severability:

The Court seeks a solution that “manifests the Judiciary’s respect for Congress’s legislative role by keeping courts from unnecessarily disturbing a law.” In line with this principle, the Court finds the best solution is a permanent injunction instead of severability. Rather than interfering with Congress’s legislative role by trying to re-work the statues in place, the Court finds that on balance, an equitable remedy is more favorable. With this solution, the unconstitutional actions are stopped for Walmart, and Congress is left with the ability to remedy the problem as it pleases.

It appears that a remedy will probably remain in limbo until Congress acts, which isn’t likely anytime soon. In the meantime, the legality of any OCAHO ALJ decision is now in question.

If you have been subject to any OCAHO ALJ decision and have questions about how this recent decision by the federal District Court in Georgia could impact your case — or if you have received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.

James F. Laboe

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