Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor got a vote of confidence today, less than a week before she goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing.
The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, by a unanimous vote, has rated her "well-qualified" for the Court. It's the highest rating the committee gives, and it's the same rating the committee gave to the four most recent additions to the Supreme Court.
The committee is made up of 15 lawyers from around the country, each representing a different federal judicial circuit (except the sprawling 9th Circuit, which has two committee members, and the committee chair, who can come from anywhere). It evaluates all nominees for Article III judgeships — by interviewing lawyers and studying nominees' work — and then produces a report, though the committee releases only its final rating.
For Supreme Court nominees, all committee members participate in the interviews, according the ABA's explanation of the confidential process (pdf). The committee also brings in law professors and lawyers with experience before the Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the rating "further evidence of the outstanding experience" Sotomayor would bring to the Court.
"The ABA’s rating – an evaluation of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament – should eliminate the doubts of naysayers who have questioned Judge Sotomayor’s disposition on the bench," Leahy said in a statement. "The confidential, peer-review evaluations of these professional qualifications have resulted in the ABA’s highest rating for Judge Sotomayor. When the Judiciary Committee hearings to consider this nomination begin next week, Americans will hear from Judge Sotomayor herself, and I have the utmost confidence they will agree with the American Bar Association’s review of her qualifications.”
The ABA committee has at times been the target of criticism from conservatives because of the relatively low or mixed ratings it issued for then-nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, among others. George W. Bush's White House declined to tell the committee in advance whom it planned to nominate for circuit court judgeships — a process that had gone on since the Eisenhower administration — though the Judiciary Committee still used the committee's ratings.
Click here for more on Sotomayor's nomination.