Criticism of ABA misses the mark

June 05, 1996

YOUR MAY 2 editorial, "Clinton's 'liberal' judges", correctly identifies the political excess in Sen. Bob Dole's attack on the judiciary.

However, your support of his suggestion that the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary should not be permitted to assess the credentials of judicial candidates because the association takes positions on many issues of public policy clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the committee's process and mandate.

The ABA standing committee was brought into the judicial selection process by the Eisenhower administration to ensure a high quality federal judiciary, and with it, public faith in our justice system. Given the intensely political nature of the selection and confirmation process, there is an obvious need for an independent analysis of a candidate's professional qualifications.

The committee takes very seriously its responsibility for providing impartial evaluations of a candidate's professional qualifications, and it limits its inquiry to an examination of professional competence, judicial temperament and integrity. The committee's practice and procedures do not permit any consideration of philosophy or political ideology or partisanship in any evaluation.

Over the years, the ABA process has enjoyed the confidence of every president, Republican and Democrat alike. Disagreements regarding particular evaluations are very rare and have solely focused on a nominee's professional qualifications, only one of the aspects considered by the president in selecting a nominee and by Congress in approving the nominee.

A review of the ABA evaluation of the judicial nominees of the last eight presidents makes this point clearly. Since 1960, the ABA has rated 1,608 nominees, including eight Supreme Court candidates, either ''qualified'' or ''well qualified.'' Of the 26 persons whose names were sent to the Senate for confirmation despite the ABA Committee having found them "not qualified," 23 were Democratic nominees and three were Republican. This is not the record of an organization applying a liberal ideological bias.

The committee is structurally insulated from the association's policy-setting process and does not consider those policies in any way in its reviews. The committee's reviews focus solely on experience, writing ability, judicial temperament and other professional qualifications. They do not examine ideology or the policy views of individuals.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, has publicly stated: "You folks (ABA Committee) are doing a tremendous job for the benefit of the legal community at large, but really for the public at large. And I just want to personally compliment you. I am glad to see that the committee has approached this in an apolitical way, as it should, and I just want to personally acknowledge that in front of everybody here today."

The public interest demands that federal judges be of highest professional caliber. The ABA is committed to supporting and encouraging the selection of the best qualified persons for the bench and the committee will continue to conduct its investigations free of political considerations. On this issue, partisan politics must be set aside and everyone should work together to maintain the judiciary's independence and integrity.

Roberta Cooper Ramo

Chicago

The writer is president of the American Bar Association.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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