Indicating it no longer wants to continue what it
called a "preferential arrangement," the Bush administration last
month ended the half century-long practice of allowing the American
Bar Association to evaluate federal judicial candidates prior to their
In a letter to ABA President Martha Barnett,
White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales said, "The question is whether
the ABA should play a unique, quasi-official role and then have its
voice heard before and above all others. We do not think that kind of
preferential arrangement is either appropriate or fair."
The ABA's role in evaluating potential
candidates has long irritated conservative lawmakers, who find the
legal group's views too liberal. They were particularly embittered
by the 1987 Senate rejection of Robert H. Bork's nomination to the
Supreme Court. In recent years, Con-gressional Republicans have pushed
for candidates to the federal bench who will not take an
The bar association has been evaluating potential
judges since 1948, when it began to advise the Senate. In 1953,
President Dwight D. Eisenhow-er invited the ABA to provide ratings of
candidates' professional qualifications in order to insulate the
selection process from political pressure.
Barnett defended the ABA's track record, saying
charges that the screening committee has a bias against Republic
nominees are false. She also disputed Bush legal advisors' view that
the ABA evaluation committee provides the only voice about potential
nominees. Rather, she said, it represents "all segments of the legal
profession in all areas of the country. . . . It is a mystery why the
administration would not want this input."
Barnett said prospective candidates are evaluated
solely on the basis of competence, integrity and temperament. The
committee "does not consider ideology or political views of
candidates and never has," she said.
The ABA will continue to provide evaluations of
judicial nominees, but Barnett acknowledged that the process may not
work as effectively if the names are not received before they are sent
to the Senate.