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The Judiciary’s Role in Shaping SSA

By Jennifer Scherf

Social Security was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 as a part of the New Deal plan. This program was created to assist aging workers in the post-depression era economy. After many revisions, the original Act has been expanded to include not only just retirement, but also survivors, Social Security Disability Insurance” disability insurance benefits, supplemental security income, unemployment, temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), Medicare, state Medicaid programs, children’s health insurance (CHIP) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) was created by the executive and legislative branches to be self-governing. This means that the administration makes its own rules, enforces these rules and polices itself to make sure the rules are being followed. This does not mean that the judicial branch of the federal government cannot still make sure this is being done correctly.

The district courts routinely issue “advisory opinions” when someone appeals a denial of benefits claiming that SSA failed to properly enforce its own rules. SSA then adopts these rulings and issues rulings to the members of SSA, clarifying or redefining what should be done. The Supreme Court has also become involved on numerous occasions to expand or redefine what SSA benefits entail and who is entitled to them.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Social Security benefits are not a right, that you are entitled to a hearing before being denied these benefits, and that men and women should be treated equally under the Act.

* Additional information can be found online at www.socialsecurityjustice.com.

Flemming v. Nestor (1960) states that “entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right.”

Goldberg v. Kelly (1970): The Supreme Court ruled that the ”Due process” due process clause of the ”Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” 14th Amendment required there to be an evidentiary hearing before a recipient can be deprived of government benefits.

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld(1975): A widower claimed that he was entitled to his deceased wife’s benefit, even though he had not been dependent on his wife. The court upheld his claims, stating that automatically granting widows the benefits and denying them to widowers violated ”Equal Protection Clause” equal protection under the ”Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” 14th Amendment.