Trump breaks prece­dent in by­pass­ing ABA on judge choices

Watch­dogs say bar showed lib­eral bias for Obama picks

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

Pres­i­dent Trump will not ask the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion to eval­u­ate can­di­dates for fed­eral judge­ships be­fore for­mally nom­i­nat­ing them for the more than 100 ex­ist­ing ju­di­cial va­can­cies — a de­par­ture from a prac­tice that pre­vi­ously has been crit­i­cized for bias against Repub­li­can nom­i­nees.

ABA Pres­i­dent Linda Klein an­nounced Fri­day that the as­so­ci­a­tion was “no­ti­fied that the White House does not in­tend to fol­low the long-stand­ing prac­tice of invit­ing the in­de­pen­dent ABA Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on the Fed­eral Ju­di­ciary to re­view the pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions of prospec­tive nom­i­nees to the lower fed­eral courts on a pre-nom­i­na­tion ba­sis.”

A trade group with more than 400,000 mem­bers, the ABA first be­gan eval­u­at­ing po­ten­tial nom­i­nees in 1953. The de­ci­sion by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to drop the pre-nom­i­na­tion eval­u­a­tions fol­lows in the foot­steps of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, who was the first pres­i­dent to break from the long­stand­ing prac­tice.

White House Coun­sel Don­ald McGahn wrote to the ABA to say that, although there is in­ter­est from “count­less” le­gal and pro­fes­sional groups in eval­u­at­ing Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nees, the ad­min­is­tra­tion does “not in­tend to give any pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions spe­cial ac­cess to our nom­i­nees.”

“Like pre­vi­ous Ad­min­is­tra­tions, we will re­lease in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing each nom­i­nee in a man­ner that pro­vides equal ac­cess to all in­ter­ested groups,” Mr. McGahn wrote in a let­ter pub­lished by The New York Times.

The ABA re­cently gave its high­est marks to Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nee for the U.S. Supreme Court, fed­eral ap­peals court Judge Neil Gor­such, call­ing him “well qual­i­fied.” But the as­so­ci­a­tion has been crit­i­cal re­cently of other ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­tions — with Ms. Klein speak­ing out against Mr. Trump’s re­buke of judges who ruled against his ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on travel and refugees.

“Per­sonal at­tacks on judges are at­tacks on our Con­sti­tu­tion,” Ms. Klein said dur­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary. The ABA also has been crit­i­cal of the travel or­ders. Ac­cord­ing to the ABA, its ju­di­cial eval­u­a­tions do not “con­sider ide­ol­ogy or po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.” How­ever, at least one prior study con­cluded that the ABA is more likely to give Demo­cratic or lib­eral nom­i­nees a “well qual­i­fied” rat­ing than their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts.

The top Demo­crat on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Dianne Fe­in­stein, said she was dis­ap­pointed by the White House’s de­ci­sion, and urged the com­mit­tee not to hold hear­ings on fu­ture nom­i­nees un­til the ABA has weighed in.

“The ABA for decades has played an in­de­pen­dent, non­par­ti­san role in eval­u­at­ing the pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions of the lawyers and judges nom­i­nated to life­time po­si­tions on our fed­eral courts,” said Mrs. Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat. “In the 24 years I’ve served on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, I’ve found the ABA eval­u­a­tions of ju­di­cial nom­i­nees to be very help­ful.”

Out of the 890 au­tho­rized fed­eral judge­ships, 125 posts are va­cant.

Aside from his nom­i­na­tion of Judge Gor­such for the Supreme Court, Mr. Trump has put forth one nom­i­nee for a seat on a fed­eral ap­pel­late court. Mr. Trump nom­i­nated Judge Amul R. Tha­par, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Ken­tucky, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 6th Cir­cuit.

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