Monday, March 30, 2009

American Bar Association is tilted toward liberal nominees, says NYT in reporting on studies

The American Bar Association -- the non-transparent arm of this nation troubling legal industry -- is biased toward giving higher ratings to liberal court nominees, The New York Times reports in citing a new, independent study.

Give some credit to former AG Alberto Gonzales, who called out the ABA for its bias and quit using the group's grading system during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has now invited the body back to grade nominees. The ABA, like state and local bar associations, leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to ensuring that the courts represent the interests of the people and justice first.

The Times reports:

Two weeks ago, the American Bar Association’s eight-year exile ended. The Obama administration restored the group to the special status it had enjoyed since the Eisenhower years, and it will once again get early word about potential nominees to the federal bench.

The group says it is serious and diligent about evaluating candidates without regard to ideology. But there is reason to wonder whether Alberto R. Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time, might have had a point when he told the group eight years ago that its help would not be needed.

The A.B.A. is, after all, a private trade association, not an arm of the government. It takes public and generally liberal positions on all sorts of divisive issues. And a series of studies suggest that candidates nominated by Democratic presidents fare better in the group’s ratings than those nominated by Republicans.

Kim J. Askew, the chairwoman of the association’s 15-member Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which performs the evaluations, said her group is independent, hardworking and completely divorced from politics.

“We are an impartial group of lawyers that bring a peer review to the process,” Ms. Askew said. “We are all lawyers. We are officers of the court. We speak the language of the law. We do not consider politics.”

But a series of studies have found indications that liberal nominees do better in the process than conservative ones. The latest, to be presented next month at the Midwest Political Science Association, found evidence consistent with ideological bias.

“Holding all other factors constant,” the study found, “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.”

The differences matter, said Amy Steigerwalt, a political scientist at Georgia State and an author of the study, along with Richard L. Vining Jr, of the University of Georgia and Susan Navarro Smelcer of Emory.

“A nominee who has a higher A.B.A. rating is more likely to move through the process,” Professor Steigerwalt said. “When problems arise, a higher A.B.A. rating provides one piece of ammunition for the president and supporting senators about why a person should be confirmed to the federal bench.”

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