Judges to Consider Social Security Benefits of National Guard Employees – Community News
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Judges to Consider Social Security Benefits of National Guard Employees


Wednesday’s fight in Babcock v Kijakazi will bring the judges deep into the cutting edge of Social Security law and a host of statutes defining the obligations and benefits of National Guard employees. This will surely not may be the most closely monitored case of the month — but the court’s resolution on the mysterious issue in the case may determine how much money certain veterans can receive in retirement benefits.

At the highest level of generality, this case is an exception to a “windfall provision” of the Social Security Act. To understand the problems for the judges, suffice it to know that Congress passed a statute designed to eliminate what it sees as “windfall benefits” that some employees would receive — inappropriately large Social Security contributions that would flow to employees who have a significant amount of money. part of their working years in jobs that are not covered by social security. The exception to the windfall elimination provision describes some payments to which that provision does not apply — employees for whom Congress would tolerate what it would generally consider to be a windfall. Specifically, the exception protects any “payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service,” a defined term that includes, among other things, the United States Army National Guard. In other words, the “uniform services exception” at issue here offers members of uniformed services an extraordinary social security benefit that is excluded for members of the general public.

The question before the court is whether the benevolence of that uniformed service exception reaches dual-status military technicians serving in the National Guard. Those technicians provide a variety of services related to the equipment and supplies of the National Guard. Although they are paid as civilian personnel, they routinely wear military uniforms and are required to remain members of an appropriate rank in the National Guard of the state where they are located, which (by law) prohibits membership in the Army National Guard of the United States entails States.

David Babcock, who spent nearly 34 years as a dual-status technician with the Michigan National Guard, aims to present a simple and linear textual argument. First, they all agree that the Army National Guard (and the parallel Air National Guard) is a “uniformed service” as defined for the purposes of the uniformed service exception. Second, Babcock argues that technicians with two statuses work “as” members of that service, in part because they are required by law to be members of that service and to wear its uniform. Therefore, Babcock argues, payments for that work are payments “based entirely on” that service. While of course irrelevant to his legal argument, it may influence some judges that Babcock is a highly decorated veteran who served with distinction in Iraq.

The government states that technicians with dual status serve in various capacities, sometimes in their capacity as civilian personnel, sometimes in their capacity as members of the State National Guard, and occasionally (if called up to active duty) as members of the United States Army National Guard. Because those technicians work in so many roles, and because they necessarily perform work in the non-federalized capacity, any payments they receive are not “fully” based on work “as” a member of the federalized uniformed service.

The government supports this text argument with two general themes that permeate its mandate. First, and most pervasively, his command repeatedly emphasizes the civil labor classification of the engineer with two statuses. To be clear, the government is not denying that the technicians are and must be members of the appropriate “uniformed service” at all times; they are simply pressing an apparent incongruity in treating “civilian” workers as members of uniformed service (ignoring the more obvious incongruity of excluding “uniformed” service from a group required by federal law “wear the uniform” of the applicable military unit).

Second, the government summary of the history of the uniformed service exception points to a series of House reports and concurrent administrative rulings that express a fairly narrow understanding of the exception. The government does not directly state that legal history would prevail here – as far as I can tell, it seems almost impossible to reconcile the understanding of legal history with the text of the law. But the story does have the effect of explaining the government’s resistance to the engineers’ claims for legal coverage.

I doubt this case will startle the judges or hold them long. As Supreme Court cases move, the amounts at stake are small and implications for future litigation are unlikely. I suspect most of them will come to the argument with a tendency to accept one or the other statutory interpretation as more convincing than the other, and if a strong majority leans in the same direction, they probably will. the end of the matter. We’ll know more on Wednesday.