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How quickly a year passes. As my year as president of the American Bar Association (ABA) comes to a close and I review some of the issues that have consumed my interest and time, one impression remains clear: The American judicial system is the strongest it has ever been and is the envy of the world. A strong judiciary is fair and equitable for all. The current application of the death penalty is not. Therefore, consistent with the 1997 resolution passed by the House of Delegates, I have used the bully pulpit that comes with the office of the president to urge the governor and elected officials in each state with capital punishment to impose a moratorium on executions. Although the ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself, as lawyers, our members believe that when it is imposed, it must be fair, provide due process, protect against wrongful convictions and be free of racial, geographic or other bias. This past October, the ABA convened a national conference, “Call to Action: A Moratorium on Executions.” Inspired by Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s decision to impose a moratorium on executions — which he issued when he learned that 13 people on death row were innocent — a diverse group of lawyers, legislators, prosecutors, defenders, judges and victims representing all sides of the debate gathered at the Carter Center in Atlanta to discuss how to implement a nationwide moratorium. The ABA developed a resource kit that provides effective methods for achieving a moratorium and for conducting an evaluation of the administration of the death penalty. The kit is being distributed to state legislators, bar associations, law firms and the public. FEDERAL JUDICIAL SELECTION Another issue that received much attention this year was the current U.S. administration’s decision no longer to use the ABA, through its Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary, to provide a prenomination peer review of candidates for the federal trial courts, appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. For a half century, the ABA has provided this service to every president, Republican and Democrat alike. The peer review process is a confidential one and relies on interviews with the candidate and with the people who know that person’s professional qualifications — other lawyers, judges, academics and community leaders. The committee also evaluates the individual’s work and considers only the professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament of a nominee. Past administrations found that the committee’s evaluations provided valuable information. It validated a candidate’s qualifications to serve and provided a buffer to the pressures of patronage. In the occasional situation when concerns about a potential nominee’s competence, integrity or temperament surfaced, the prenomination peer review gave the candidate and the administration an opportunity to respond before the information became part of the public domain, thus avoiding embarrassment and controversy. The Senate also relied on the ABA’s ratings as a dependable source of information on professional qualifications. As the representative of all segments of the bar nationwide, the ABA is uniquely positioned to provide this service. Our membership reflects the rich diversity that exists in the legal profession, not one particular group or philosophy. After a track record of 50 successful years, the ABA’s process and ratings have earned the confidence of the legal community and the public. Indeed, they have come to expect this independent review. Although the Bush administration will no longer use the Standing Committee’s prenomination peer review, the committee’s work will continue: The peer-review process will be done after the administration announces a judiciary nomination. The difference is that the evaluation and analysis will be provided to the administration, the Senate and the public, contemporaneously. Finally, our judicial system is only as strong as the people who serve it. We need to continue to attract the most qualified men and women to the court. Slowly, over the years, the erosion of the real buying power of the compensation for the federal judiciary has raised numerous concerns. There is anecdotal evidence that shows that some federal judges are leaving the bench early, and evidence that potential candidates are reluctant to serve as judges because of the financial implications of the current system. It is time to correct this problem. The independence and strength of our system depends on continuing to attract the best and the brightest to the courts. The ABA — and each president who preceded me and who will follow me — will work tirelessly to ensure that our judicial system continues to be the envy of the world. Martha W. Barnett, a partner at Holland & Knight, is completing her term as president of the ABA. She is the second female president of the ABA.

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