- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

In 1987, when the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary effectively derailed the appointment of D.C. federal appeals court Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, President Reagan should have accused the ABA of practicing brazen politics and eliminated its special role in judicial nominations. In the 10 years that followed, the ABA became so publicly enmeshed in liberal causes that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah, rightly decided in 1997 to remove the ABA from the Senate's official judicial review process. Now, the administration of President George W. Bush is seriously considering abolishing the special role that the ABA has unfairly enjoyed, and too often abused, in the selection process of the federal judiciary.

In a prelude to a decision by Mr. Bush, on Monday White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Attorney General John Ashcroft met with the president of the ABA and the chairman of the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary to discuss the special interest group's powerful role. The decision is a no-brainer: The White House should eliminate the ABA's preferential position as officially sanctioned judicial evaluators.

The ABA, which has been rating prospective federal judicial nominees since the early 1950s, adequately played its role until the late 1970s, after which it abandoned its largely neutral role on the most controversial issues of the day. Since then, as Mr. Hatch noted in 1997, the ABA "has taken positions on abortion, affirmative action, flag desecration, religious liberty, the use of evidence in sexual-assault cases, reform of the exclusionary rule, habeas corpus, prison conditions, mandatory minimum sentences, welfare, deportation of criminal aliens, medical and product liability … and capital punishment." Invariably, the ABA has embraced the liberal position on these great issues of the day, including the Clinton health care plan. And, in 1995, then-ABA president George Bushnell called the new Republican congressional majority "reptilian bastards" over a dispute involving the Legal Services Corp.

In August 1992 at the ABA's annual convention in San Francisco, the organization's Commission on Women in the Profession presented an award to Anita Hill. The ABA invited Hillary Clinton, a former commission chairman, to deliver the keynote address, in which she, laughably in retrospect, declared that all women who care about "integrity and morality in the workplace are in Professor Anita Hill's debt." That would, presumably, include Paula Corbin Jones and Monica Lewinsky. Two years later five former ABA presidents publicly rebuked D.C. federal appeals court Judge David Sentelle for having lunch with his good friend Lauch Faircloth, Republican senator of North Carolina, before replacing Whitewater independent counsel Robert Fiske with Kenneth Starr. Harry Edwards, the Jimmy Carter-appointed chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, investigated the matter and ruled that Judge Sentelle had violated no judicial ethics. That wasn't the last time an ABA president sought to interject himself into matters involving Mr. Starr. In February 1998, then-ABA President Jerome Shestack a longtime Democratic supporter who apparently saw no problem with President Clinton's lying under oath in a deposition in front of a federal judge involving, as Mrs. Clinton would say, "morality in the workplace" accused Mr. Starr of engaging in "prosecutorial zeal" and questioned Mr. Starr's "financial association with partisan groups."

Clearly, the ABA long ago abandoned its neutral and nonpartisan positions on the great political issues of the day. Now is the time for the Bush administration to abolish the preferential role the ABA has for far too long unfairly played in the selection of the nation's judges.

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