The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision in Bird v. Commissioner of Social Security remanding a case to Social Security. In and of itself, this decision isn't that important. What is important is that this is the first opinion of this sort from the Court since 1999! There have been published opinions on attorney fee issues from the Court since 1999 and on appeals filed by the government but no published opinions on appeals filed by claimants in 13 years despite the fact that there have been hundreds of appeals filed by claimants over that long time period. For 13 years, no matter how meritorious the case, all that the claimant ever received from the Court was a one or two paragraph per curiam opinion which said, in effect, "Go away and quit bothering us with your trivial little Social Security cases. We don't care!"
I don't think the published opinion in Bird happened because the case is that incredibly compelling. I'm sure there have been many other Social Security appeals more compelling over the last 13 years. What has happened is that the composition of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has changed. A solid majority of the Court's judges are now Democratic appointees. That majority will probably grow over the next four years. This change will have an effect on the District Courts and ultimately on Social Security.
Media attention to judicial appointments focuses almost entirely on the Supreme Court. However, the appointments to the Courts of Appeals and the District Courts are also vastly important. The number of civil actions in Social Security cases has not risen at the same rate as the number of Social Security disability claims filed. This may start changing and not just in the 4th Circuit area of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.