Legal Intern, Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy
Who says cozying up to pro-attorney interest groups can't be a bipartisan exercise? The Wall Street Journal picked up on some curious words by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham during a keynote speech at the ABA's recent annual meeting:
Mr. Graham, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee praised the group's work vetting judicial nominees. "That service you provide the United States Senate is invaluable because in these politically charged times in which we live," he said, "you are a filter, sort of a wall, between people who are politically connected and somebody who should be on the bench."
This politically charged environment, Mr. Graham maintains, is the result of the Senate's broken process. "I'm really worried about how we're doing confirmations. They're turning into political events," the South Carolina Republican said. "I'm not worried about judicial activism, I'm worried about Senate activism."
Sen. Graham went on to claim that judicial nominees, regardless of ideology, "are entitled to be confirmed as long as they're qualified." Such comments by Sen. Graham would seem to fly in the face of his actions on the Senate floor, where the Senator has voted to block several Obama nominees that were rated as "well qualified" by the ABA.
More controversial, however, is the ABA's vetting process itself. Far from creating a "filter" or "wall" between politics and qualifications as Sen. Graham suggested, the ABA's judicial evaluations appear to be heavily influenced by politics given the ABA's preference for liberal nominees over conservative nominees. [See also on POL]. The most frequently cited example of bias is the ABA's sparkling rating ("well qualified") for Obama's recent Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu compared to its lukewarm rating ("qualified/not qualified") for Reagan's Seventh Circuit nominee Frank Easterbrook. For perspective, at the time of his nomination Easterbrook's curriculum vitae (former judicial clerk, assistant to the Solicitor General, Deputy Solicitor General, 20 cases argued before Supreme Court, career in academia) dwarfed Goodwin Liu's credentials (former clerk and academic, no cases argued before the Supreme Court).
The bias of the ABA led the Bush Administration to exclude it from the process of evaluating judicial nominees. Undeterred, the ABA further inserted itself into the political arena during Obama's time in office by openly lobbying the Senate to schedule votes on Obama nominees. In light of the ABA's politicized history - and Sen. Graham's own voting record - the Senator's comments to the ABA were curious indeed.