8 Political Control of America’s Courts Justice officials. The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducts background checks covering financial matters, conflicts of interest, and potentially dis- qualifying personal actions (e.g., prior history of drug use). Presidents seek guidance from government officials outside the executive branch, includ- ing members of Congress and governors, party leaders, and, occasionally, members of the Supreme Court. But presidents also look for nomination guidance from those situated outside governing institutions. The ABA, a non-partisan interest group and trade organization founded in 1878, has been one the most influen- tial outside organizations involved in the judicial selection process. The “nation’s largest and most prestigious lawyer’s association” (Sen 2014), the ABA was tapped by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 to participate in vetting judicial candidates. As legal scholar Laura E. Little explains, the Eisenhower Administration turned to the ABA after the attorney general “concluded that the administration needed an inde- pendent review body to examine the qualifications of potential judicial nominees so that the administration could more ably resist pressure to repay political debts by appointing individuals of questionable talents and abilities to the federal bench. . . . The ABA’s role quickly became institu- tionalized as an adjunct to the executive’s constitutional role of nominat- ing federal judges” (Little 2001, 39–40). Following Eisenhower’s lead, most subsequent presidents also utilized the ABA, in particular by sending confidential lists of judicial prospects to the organization’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for pre- vetting of their legal qualifications. The Standing Committee on the Fed- eral Judiciary is composed of 15 lawyers, and its goal, as described by the ABA, is “to support and encourage the selection of the best-qualified per- sons for the federal judiciary” (ABA 2022a). While the ABA is an advo- cacy organization and, as such, takes positions and lobbies on a variety of policy issues, it maintains that the Standing Committee’s review of judicial candidates is impartially dedicated to professional qualifications. Using a peer-review process “structured to achieve impartial evaluations of the integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament of nominees for the federal judiciary,” the Committee states that it “restricts its evalua- tion to issues bearing on professional qualifications and does not consider a nominee’s philosophy or ideology” (ABA 2022a). Though the process of review is slightly different for nominations to the Supreme Court as compared to the lower courts, the Standing Committee conducts extensive interviews, considers candidates’ years of legal experience, and examines their legal writings “for quality, clarity, knowledge of the law, and analytical ability” (ABA 2022b). Based on this
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