The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has given its highest rating to two of six candidates nominated by President Barack Obama to federal judicial posts in Georgia.
The 15-member ABA committee unanimously gave Atlanta attorney Jill Pryor and Chief Judge Julie Carnes of the Northern District of Georgia “well-qualified” ratings for their nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
But the committee gave the four nominees for seats on the Northern District of Georgia bench more mixed ratings, with a minority of the panel deeming Judge Eleanor Ross of DeKalb County State Court unqualified for the federal post.
The ABA committee includes two members from the Ninth Circuit, one member for each of the other 12 federal judicial circuits and a chairman. The members are appointed by the ABA president and serve staggered, three-year terms.
The Eleventh Circuit’s representative is Miami lawyer Francisco “Frank” Angones of Angones McClure & Garcia in Miami. Angones is a former president of the Cuban-American Bar Association, the Dade County Bar Association and the Florida Bar.
The ABA committee says its ratings are based on assessments of federal judicial candidates in three categories: integrity (which includes character, general reputation in the legal community, industry and diligence), professional competence (including intellect, judgment, writing and analytical abilities, knowledge of the law, and breadth of professional experience), and judicial temperament (including compassion, decisiveness, open-mindedness, courtesy, patience, freedom from bias, and commitment to equal justice under the law.)
There are three possible rankings: well qualified, qualified, and not qualified. A majority means eight or nine members, with a “substantial majority” meaning 10 to 13 members.
The president first nominated Pryor, a partner at Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, to the Eleventh Circuit in February 2012 and renominated her last year despite the opposition of Georgia’s two Republican senators.
Carnes, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, was nominated as part of a deal the White House made with U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson that would allow Pryor’s nomination to proceed.
The deal, which presumably lifts the hold on Pryor’s nomination, also included nominations to four open seats—including Carnes’ spot, assuming she is confirmed for the appeals court—on the Northern District of Georgia bench.
In addition to Ross, the nominees include Troutman Sanders attorney Mark Cohen, Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, and Leigh Martin May, a partner at Butler Wooten & Fryhofer.
The ABA committee awarded the following ratings:
• Cohen: a majority rated Cohen as qualified; a minority rated the trial lawyer as well qualified.
• Boggs: a substantial majority rated him well qualified; a minority rated him as qualified.
• May: the committee gave her a unanimous qualified rating.
• Ross: a majority rated Ross as qualified. A minority rated her as not qualified.
Ross, the only African-American nominee on the Georgia slate and an appointee of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, was one of only two federal judicial nominees—out of 103 nominated by the president last year—to receive a not qualified rating from some ABA committee members. The other was Nitza Quinones Alejandro—a gay Hispanic woman who was confirmed to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bench last year.
In 2011, the ABA gave a similarly tepid rating to Obama judicial nominee Natasha Perdew Silas, a federal public defender in Atlanta who earned her undergraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her law degree at the University of Virginia.
While a substantial majority of the ABA panel rated Silas—whose support included that of four former U.S. attorneys—as qualified, a minority rated her as not qualified.
Silas was nominated together with U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker as part of a package deal. When Georgia’s senators, who supported Walker’s confirmation, refused to support Silas or return blue slips that would allow her confirmation hearings to proceed, the president withdrew both nominations.