American Bar Association
The American Bar Association is a national association of United States lawyers whose stated purpose is the improvement of lawyers and the administration of justice. The organization was founded in 1878 and has over 300,000 members. Every state and city has affiliated groups. Nearly all law schools must pass rigid accreditation by the ABA.
Rating candidates for federal judge
The ABA since the 1920s played a major role in approving federal judges until it was dropped by the George W. Bush administration because of liberal bias. Numerous scholarly studies have demonstrated that liberal nominees do better in the process than conservative ones. Holding all other factors constant, those nominations submitted by a Democratic president were significantly more likely to receive higher A.B.A. ratings than nominations submitted by a Republican president. However, the effect of higher ABA ratings on the likelihood of being confirmed are fairly small. Of all candidates for federal appeals court seats who received the group’s highest rating between 1977 and 2000, 85% were confirmed; but candidates with lower ratings were confirmed between 71% and 80% percent of the time.
The ABA claims it does not consider ideology in its ratings, basing them only on professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament. It is the third factor, one the association defines to include compassion, open-mindedness and commitment to equal justice under the law, that critics say leaves room for subjective judgments that may tend to favor liberals.
Three exceptionally distinguished conservative judges, Richard A. Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook, both on the federal appeals court in Chicago, and J. Harvie Wilkinson III, on the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., all received a mixed ratings in which a majority of the committee found them “qualified” and a minority “not qualified.”
Recent Supreme Court nominees, including conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and liberals Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all received the group’s highest rating. Bush nominee Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination before the bar association issued a rating; both liberals and conservatives opposed her.
Conservative Clarence Thomas was given a split rating of “qualified” and “not qualified.” Judge Robert Bork, the conservative whose nomination was rejected by the Senate in 1987, received a curious split decision, with the majority calling him “well qualified” but four members saying he was “unqualified.”
- Abel, Richard L. American Lawyers. (1989). 406 pp.
- Adam Liptak, "Legal Group’s Neutrality Is Challenged," new York Times Mar. 30, 2009