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UVA Professor and Students Have Their Day in Court

University of Virginia

A University of Virginia professor and eight of his students will be in court tomorrow – the U.S. Supreme Court to be exact – arguing a case of possible importance to people hoping to collect social security.

Sixty-seven million Americans collect benefits through social security.  Most get the money when they turn 65, but some are disabled and eligible at a younger age.  They must apply for support.  If they’re turned down, they can appeal, but the law is complicated.

“Without any attorney or some sort of representative, your chances are not very great,” says Daniel  Ortiz, a professor at UVA’s law school.

He notes that attorneys may be reluctant to take these cases, because there are limits on how much they can earn – restrictions that vary.

“Right now the law is just confused across the country.  If you’re a social security claimant who lives in Florida your attorney can’t get much money. If you’re in Nevada, your attorney can.”

To assure that people can get good legal assistance, Ortiz asked the Supreme Court to hear his case and standardize the way lawyers get paid. It agreed, and that is no small victory.

“Each year the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to hear about 7,000 cases, and it only reviews on the merits about 72,” Ortiz explains.

What’s more, the solicitor general, who usually argues for the status quo is – in this case – on his side.  Ortiz also had assistance from 8 senior law students who researched the case.  They’ll be up early to get a seat and watch oral arguments.  

“Frankly," he admits "this isn’t one of the headliners of the term.  The worry is that since the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, there’s been a lot more interest.”

A ruling is expected by spring.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief