Nominations, Confirmations, and Departures of Federal Judges 9 review, the Standing Committee rates potential and actual nominees as “Well Qualified,” “Qualified,” or “Not Qualified.” The ABA shares the nominee’s ratings, though not the confidential report that provides the basis of the ratings, with the White House. For candidates formally nominated by the president, the ABA shares the ratings with the Sen- ate Judiciary Committee and makes the ratings publicly available. Public reports of the ratings indicate if the Standing Committee assessment was unanimous or split. Because ABA ratings are only advisory in nature, a “Not Qualified” rating is not necessarily disqualifying. In many cases, presidents have pro- ceeded with appointments even after receiving a negative rating of the candidate. For instance, four of Clinton’s nominees to the federal District Courts were deemed “Not Qualified” by the ABA, as were three of Carter’s, three of Johnson’s, seven of Kennedy’s, and eight of Eisenhower’s (McMil- lion 2017). Similarly, Ford, Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower each nomi- nated a candidate to the Circuit Courts despite pre-vetting that generated a “Not Qualified” rating (McMillion 2017). Still, for some administrations, a “Not Qualified” assessment has doomed a prospective candidate’s chances of nomination (or confirma- tion). For example, after 14 of roughly 185 potential Obama nominees received negative ABA ratings, the administration declined to proceed with those nominations (Savage 2011). Thus, the ABA’s evaluation has proven influential in the selection of candidates to the bench. However, whereas some presidents have broad- ened the ABA’s involvement, others have diminished it (Smelcer, Steiger- walt, and Vining 2012, 827). George W. Bush and Donald Trump are among those to have reduced the influence of the ABA, choosing not to seek the organization’s input prior to nomination. Though the ABA still evaluates and issues ratings on announced nominations, which has the potential to influence the confirmation process, in the case of the 10 Trump nominees to the federal bench deemed “Not Qualified” by the ABA, eight received confirmation from the GOP-controlled Senate (Alder 2020). Other presidents have taken different paths with respect to the ABA’s input. Presidents Clinton and Obama both sought ABA evaluations after identifying potential nominees. The Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations submitted names of nominees to the ABA after their selection but prior to formal nomination. “President Carter, in his quest to increase the representativeness of the federal bench, created the Circuit Judge Nominating Commission and pushed the ABA to relax its standards as to the minimum number of years of legal experience a nominee needed to be deemed Qualified” (Smelcer, Steigerwalt, and Vining 2012, 827).
Previous Page Next Page