The Court has resumed issuing opinions with its holding in Babcock v. Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. This case of statutory interpretation is of particular interest to the relatively small set of individuals who claim retirement benefits based on simultaneous service in two federal pension systems. The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Barrett, was joined by all of the other Justices, save for Justice Gorsuch, who, somewhat self-consciously, dissented.
The case concerned the retirement benefits due under the Social Security Act to David Babcock, who had retired from employment as a “military technician (dual status),” 10 U. S. C. §10216, a civilian position.
As a dual-status technician, Babcock was required to maintain membership in the National Guard. For his full-time technician’s job as a test pilot and flight instructor, Babcock received civil service pay and Civil Service Retirement System pension payments from the Office of Personnel Management. For his separate National Guard service, which included part-time drills, training exercises, and one active-duty deployment, Babcock received military pay and military pension payments from a different federal office, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
When Babcock retired, he applied to the Social Security Administration for benefits. However, the agency discounted Babcock’s pension payments to block his double dipping. Babcock argued that the reduction should not apply because the pension payments at issue fell within a statutory exception for payments “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.”
Affirming the Sixth Circuit, the Court disagreed with Babcock and held that civil-service pension payments fall outside the Social Security Act’s uniformed services exception because they are based on employment in a civilian capacity and not on “service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U. S. C. §415(a)(7)(A)(III).
While he expressed awkwardness in dissenting from all of the other Justices on a simple issue of statutory interpretation, Justice Gorsuch bought Babcock’s argument. . . .
One expects that the early opinions of the Court in the current term will be relatively non-contentious. The more difficult rulings likely will take longer.