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Following an hour-long meeting at the White House between Bush administration officials and the president of the American Bar Association, it remained unclear Monday afternoon whether the bar group will continue its decades-long role in helping vet federal judges. A spokesman for President George W. Bush said a decision will not be made until White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales briefs the president. The decision could come “very soon,” said Scott McClellan. “The question is whether [the ABA] should have a preferential role over all other interested parties,” McClellan added. The ABA is clearly on the defensive. ABA President Martha Barnett said she argued at the meeting Monday why the organization should continue to get an early look at the names of potential judicial nominees in order to carry out evaluations. “They are asking the question why the ABA should have a unique role, and why the ABA should get the nominations before they’re public,” said Barnett, a Holland & Knight partner in Tallahassee, Fla. “After 50 years, this process has taken on a credibility of its own,” she said. Since 1953, presidents have forwarded the names of would-be jurists to the ABA so that the organization could review their qualifications before the White House formally sent them to the Senate for confirmation. Poor reviews have nipped potential nominations in the bud. The arrangement appeared to work well until the 1980s, when Republicans started criticizing the ABA’s support of liberal causes such as abortion rights and affirmative action — not to mention the ABA judiciary committee’s mixed reviews of GOP Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

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