WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says it is happy with the mid-level rating of "qualified" that the American Bar Association bestowed on Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
But Thomas' critics say the appraisal by the nation's largest lawyers group undermines President Bush's assertion that Thomas is the best man for the job.
Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday in a statement from Kennebunkport, Maine, that Bush welcomed the ABA action.
"As the president stated here two months ago, Judge Thomas has excelled in everything he has attempted, and the president is confident that Judge Thomas will serve on the court with distinction," Fitzwater said.
When Bush picked Thomas, who is black, in July to succeed retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, the high court's only black member, the president denied he was filling a racial quota on the court.
He described Thomas as the "best qualified" candidate for the vacancy.
But Thomas' critics were quick to describe the ABA's weak endorsement as evidence that the conservative Thomas is a mediocre choice.
"The panel's misgivings about his nomination will weigh heavily in the balance," said Arthur Kropp, president of People for the American Way, a liberal group.
Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., Thomas' leading backer, called the rating "excellent news."
The ABA has three rankings for high court nominees: well qualified, qualified and not qualified.
The mid-level rating for Thomas is the same ABA evaluation he received when he was appointed a federal appeals court judge in 1989.