The American Bar Association wants back inside the process for vetting nominees to the federal judiciary, and it says the White House is at least listening.
Eight years ago, the incoming Bush administration reversed a longstanding policy that gave the association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary a central, privileged role in the nomination process. Republicans had criticized the ABA as simply another interest group because of the liberal positions taken by its House of Delegates and for the mixed ratings it gave to Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, among others.
Kim Askew, chair of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, says the committee is ready to resume its role "evaluating the professional qualifications of candidates," either before or after President Barack Obama announces each nominee.
"Our goal is to assist the Administration and the Senate Judiciary Committee in whatever way they deem most appropriate," Askew, a partner in the Dallas office of K&L Gates, said in a statement provided to Legal Times. "As chair, I can assure you that the Standing Committee takes its role in the process very seriously. The Committee bases its evaluation solely on a peer review of each nominee's integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament. The Committee does not consider a nominee's ideological or political philosophy."
An ABA staff member said the association has had conversations about its role with White House counsel Gregory Craig but has not received a definitive answer. A White House spokesman had no comment Thursday.
The association has had a prominent role in the nomination process since at least 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower said he would appoint no one who did not have its approval. President George H.W. Bush's legal team briefly considered ending the ABA's role in 1989 but decided it wasn't worth the hassle.
Prior to 2001, the 15 members of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary would know the names of potential nominees before a president submitted the names to the Senate. Committee members have described their background research as extremely thorough, involving at least 40 interviews per nominee, and very secretive. The president and the Senate would be informed only of the committee's final rating -- well qualified, qualified, or not qualified -- and whether the committee was split, not the details of the research.
The committee has still rated potential judges since 2001, but without knowing the names of nominees before President George W. Bush announced them. In at least eight cases, a majority of the committee rated a Bush nominee as "not qualified."
First reported in The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times