The United States Supreme Court has ruled that Administrative Law Judges must be appointed by the department head and not how they are currently retained by the agency they represent.  The case, Lucia vs. the Securities and Exchange Commission, does not deal with administrative law judges in the USDA, however the ruling could have a major impact on the enforcement scheme currently utilized by the USDA in Horse Protection Act cases.

It is not clear, nor did the Supreme Court Justices recommend, what the solution is for however they did remand the Lucia case back to be heard by a constitutionally appointed officer and it can’t can be the administrative law judge in the previous case.  There are several cases involving walking horse exhibitors in the D.C. circuit on appeal in front of a judicial officer where attorneys have raised the same issue of the appointment of the judicial officer not being constitutional.  However, those appeals have not been ruled on at this point in time.