Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today criticized the American Bar Association's process for evaluating federal judicial nominees, saying the ABA should not penalize a nominee for not having prior experience on the bench.
"I think the ABA should get a new life and look at whether people are qualified, not whether they have judicial experience," Reid said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was introducing a nominee from his home state.
The ABA has been evaluating judicial nominees since the Eisenhower administration. A 15-member committee rates each nominee either well-qualified, qualified, or not qualified, based on interviews and background materials that one or more committee members has gathered. The ratings have occasionally been the subject of controversy, particularly among conservatives who view the committee as ideologically biased.
The nominee Reid introduced, Gloria Navarro, has been rated qualified by the ABA, but a minority of the committee voted to rate her not qualified, according to the ABA's list (PDF). The committee doesn't comment on individual cases, but Reid said there was concern that Navarro has never been a judge. She's been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
"The ABA says she hasn't had judicial experience. That is upsetting to me," Reid said, noting her work as a government lawyer handling civil litigation and as a lawyer in private practice. Navarro has also been a public defender, according to her White House biography, and Reid said she would be the only female and only Hispanic judge in the district.
Attacking the judiciary as often out-of-touch, Reid even criticized judges' "robes" and "fancy chambers." Such criticism has become more common as prior judicial experience has become almost a prerequisite for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I asked President Obama, 'Let's get someone on the court that hasn't been a judge,'" he said. "I think we need people on the bench who have been out there, like Gloria.... She has had experience in the real world of government and in the real world of the law."
In a 31-page document (PDF), the ABA lays out the rating committee's three criteria as "integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament."