Northwestern University Professor James Lindgren has completed a study of the role played by the American Bar Association in the evaluation of nominees for the federal judiciary. Lindgren concluded that, for nominees with similar credentials, the ABA gave significantly higher ratings candidates appointed by President Clinton than those appointed by President Bush (the First).
Lindgren found that this effect was most prominent where the nominees had no prior judicial experience. Without this important credential, more subjective factors like temperament and philosophy tended to have greater weight in the ABA’s ratings. With this increased subjectivity, came a disparity of result. Comparing Clinton nominees to Bush nominees, Lindgen found that Clinton appointees without prior judicial experience were 65% likely to be given the ABA’s highest rating of "Well-Qualified," as opposed to just 17% for those nominated by President Bush. Lindgren, after adjusting for objective criteria like law school education, and experience in law review, federal court clerkships, private practice, and government practice, found that Clinton nominees were 10 times as likely to be given the coveted highest rating.
This study comes in the wake of the President’s decision to remove the ABA from the nomination process, and the Senate’s decision not to move forward with any judicial nominees until it received the ABA’s input. Hopefully, this study will spark a positive debate on the role of the ABA in this very important governmental process.