The American Bar Association has resumed its role of evaluating possible choices for the federal judiciary before the president nominates them, reversing a decision made eight years ago under President George W. Bush.
ABA President Thomas Wells Jr. confirmed the change today and praised the work of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
“The Standing Committee makes a unique contribution to the process by conducting an extensive peer review of each potential nominee’s integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament,” he said in a news release.
As The BLT noted earlier today, the committee has already completed its work on Judge David Hamilton, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. It gave him a unanimous “well-qualified” rating. In 1994, a majority of the committee’s members at the time rated him “not qualified” to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
The bar association has had a unique role in the nominations process since the Eisenhower administration. Until 2001, a committee selected by the ABA president would interview potential nominees and their colleagues, compile a background report, and vote on whether a lawyer was qualified for a certain position before the president would announce the nominee. The vote was made public.
Republicans frequently complained about the ratings, noting the committee’s mixed evaluations of conservative icons such as Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit. They also noted the liberal positions taken by the ABA’s House of Delegates. Under the advice of then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, Bush ended the ABA’s pre-nomination role.
The ABA’s committee continued to evaluate nominees, however, at the request of Senate Democrats. Because the evaluations take about a month, the confirmation process grew longer.
Without directly mentioning the criticisms, Wells responded to them today.
“The Standing Committee does not consider a potential nominee’s ideological or political philosophy,” he said in the news release. “Its work is fully insulated from, and completely independent of, all other activities of the ABA, and is not influenced by ABA policies. The Standing Committee itself never proposes or endorses a particular candidate for the federal judiciary; its sole function is to assist the administration and the Senate in evaluating the professional qualifications of potential nominees for a life-time appointment to the federal bench.”
A White House spokesman had no comment.