NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bias Found In Bar Association Judicial Ratings

November 13, 2001

Judges nominated by President Clinton received higher ratings than those nominated by former President George H.W. Bush, but were they more qualified? A Federalist Society study of the American Bar Association's (ABA) ratings of President Clinton's confirmed U.S. Court of Appeals nominees and those nominated by President Bush determined that of judges with similar professional credentials, Clinton's nominees received higher ABA ratings than Bush's nominees.

The ABA rating system has no measurable credentials, but says evaluation "is directed to professional qualifications, integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament." As a substitute, the Federalist Society used six measurable credentials to compare the nominees of both administrations: whether the nominee had previous judicial experience, attended a top 10 law school, served on a law review while in law school, served as a law clerk to a federal judge, served as a private practitioner or served as a government lawyer.

The study analyzed 108 appointees rated by the ABA. There were two notable, statistical findings. President Clinton nominated more minorities and female justices and Bush nominees received lower ABA ratings than Clinton appointees:

  • While 67 percent of Clinton nominees received the highest possible ABA rating, only 48 percent of Bush confirmed nominees received it.
  • Accounting for prior judicial experience, 68 percent of Clinton's appointees received the highest rating as opposed to 24 percent for Bush.
  • A Bush nominee with none of the six credentials had an initial 9 percent chance of receiving the highest rating while a Clinton nominee had an 81 percent chance.
  • A Bush nominee with top credentials in all six categories had only a 77 percent chance of a receiving the highest rating, which was still below a Clinton appointee with no credentials.

In light of these findings, it is no wonder that the younger President Bush discontinued the practice of relying on the ABA to vet nominees before their names were made public.

Source: "Examining the American Bar Association's Ratings of Federal Appellate Judicial Nominees," ABA Watch, Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, August 2001.


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