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American Bar Association: Significant Number of Obama Judicial Nominees 'Not Qualified

"we may not agree with all of their ratings”

The American Bar Association, the largest law and voluntary professional association in the world, has declared a number of President Obama's potential judicial nominees "not qualified." The New York Times reports that the rejection rate for Obama's judicial suggestions "is more than three and a half times as high as it was under either of the previous two presidencies," and called the number "significant:"

"The association’s judicial vetting committee has opposed 14 of the roughly 185 potential nominees the administration asked it to evaluate, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The number of Obama prospects deemed 'not qualified' already exceeds the total number opposed by the group during the eight-year administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; the rejection rate is more than three and a half times as high as it was under either of the previous two presidencies, documents and interviews show."

The ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. The 15-person judicial vetting committee is appointed by the bar association’s president, who serves for one year, to fill staggered three-year terms. The Committee Chairman Allan Joseph told the Times that the panel is fair-minded, and puts in long hours reading candidates' writings and conducting confidential interviews about them with dozens of judges and lawyers.

“Our role is to provide the only peer review in the whole process, and we think that is valuable — particularly with a lifetime appointment under consideration,” he said. The committee does not disclose identities or its ratings of judicial prospects unless the president goes on to nominate them

The unfavorable vetting of Obama's suggestions throws a wrench into the politics of judicial nominations, as the Times notes that in recent Republican administrations conservatives have accused the ABA of liberal bias. In 2001, President Bush stopped sending the ABA names of prospects prior to their nomination, a practice that President Obama may regret restoring. The White House indicated that it will not nominate any person that the ABA deemed unqualified.

The Times notes that the administration is still perplexed with their low batting average by comparison when it comes to finding judges the ABA likes, and the Times reports that the administration has criticized the organization for placing too much value on courtroom experience when rating possible nominees. Many of the failed Obama suggestions are government lawyers and law professors.

But are qualified candidates being sacrificed for diversity? The New York Times includes these two curious paragraphs in its piece:

Mr. Obama has made it a policy goal to diversify the bench in terms of race, gender and life experiences. Many of his other female and minority prospects received favorable bar group ratings and went on to be nominated and confirmed; the judges he has appointed have been more likely to be women or minorities than those of any previous president.


Still, the demographic composition of the 14 prospects opposed by the panel has proved to be awkward. A person familiar with the ratings said nine are women — five of whom are white, two black, and two Hispanic. Of the five men, one is white, two are black, and two are Hispanic.

“Although we may not agree with all of their ratings,” Obama’s White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, said in a statement regarding the Times story, “we respect and value their historical role in evaluating judicial candidates. The president remains committed to addressing the judicial vacancy crisis with urgency and with qualified candidates who bring a diverse range of experience to the bench.”

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