Trump breaks precedent in bypassing ABA on judge choices
Watchdogs say bar showed liberal bias for Obama picks
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.