A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's administrative law judges (ALJs) were hired in violation of the Constitution would likely open up some past ALJ decisions to challenges, legal experts agree, but the fallout should be limited to cases still pending judicial review, whereas defendants whose cases are already final could be out of luck.

Peter D. Hardy, a partner at Ballard Spahr who practices white collar defense, explained that the Supreme Court's ability to correct "structural or jurisdictional" errors is limited by the "principle of finality." Once a judgment has become final, according to Hardy, either because the time to seek direct review has expired or because a petition for certiorari was denied, it typically can't be successfully revived unless "extraordinary circumstances" exist that outweigh "the general interest in finality."

"That result may be counter-intuitive and a bit unfair," but it's well established by Supreme Court precedent, Hardy said.

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