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Throughout the federal government are thousands of officials who do not direct courtrooms, but who are, in a sense, judges. They are federal employees who preside over trial-like disputes, hear evidence and testimony, and make decisions that can deeply shape people’s lives, such as the granting of asylum and veterans benefits.
These executive-branch employees are administrative adjudicators.
The Trump administration has launched an obscure but dangerous effort to undermine this system, and to dictate both the appropriate circumstances for commencing adjudication and the rules that govern how disputes with agencies are resolved.
If the Trump administration’s strategy works, it will have steered the federal bureaucracy further toward an authoritarian future in which all executive-branch policy making must bend to the whims of a single individual, the president.
Although precise data are hard to find, recent work by two leading administrative-law scholars suggests there are roughly 12,000 of these agency adjudicators of various types across the federal bureaucracy, as compared with about 870 permanently authorized federal-court judges.
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