ABA President Linda A. Klein said last month that the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary will continue to provide its objective evaluations of federal judicial nominees to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a post-nomination basis as part of the judicial confirmation process.
Klein was responding to a letter received from the White House in March notifying the association that the Trump administration does not intend to invite the ABA standing committee to conduct pre-nomination evaluations of prospective nominees to the lower federal courts.
In her March 31 statement, Klein noted that President Eisenhower first invited the ABA into the process in 1953 and, with the exception of the George W. Bush administration, the ABA has been asked by every president to conduct pre-nomination evaluations of the professional qualifications of potential lower-court nominees and post-nomination evaluations of Supreme Court nominees.
“This helps to ensure the highest quality judiciary through an objective, nonpartisan review of the professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament of those who would have lifetime appointments to our federal courts,” Klein wrote. “Over the years, the standing committee’s work has done much to instill public confidence and trust in the judiciary.”
White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II wrote in the letter to Klein that “it is essential to give all interested parties the same opportunity to evaluate candidates for judicial service and that the administration welcomes the ABA to evaluate its judicial candidates just as it welcomes evaluation from any other professional organization or interest group.” He added that the administration admires the “ABA’s goal of providing non-politicized review of judicial nominees.”
Reacting to the administration’s decision, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed her disappointment, noting that during her 24 years on the Judiciary Committee she has found the ABA evaluation of judicial nominees to be very helpful. “Senators deserve the opportunity to take the ABA’s evaluations into account as they review nominees, and the Judiciary Committee should not hold hearings on nominees until the ABA has an opportunity to provide its ratings,” she said.
During the recent Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, ABA Standing Committee Chair Nancy Scott Degan and Tenth Circuit Representative Shannon Edwards appeared before the committee to explain the ABA panel’s “Well Qualified’ rating for the nominee. They emphasized that the evaluation process involves extensive peer review that focuses solely on a nominee’s professional qualifications and does not take into consideration a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation or ideology.