Last week, the overtly liberal American Bar Association (ABA), which has passed resolutions supporting abortion rights and a moratorium on capital punishment, announced that Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. had received the organization’s highest ranking. The ABA’s 15-member Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously declared Judge Roberts to be “well-qualified” for the Supreme Court.
Immediately after, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, tried to pour cold water over the ABA’s highly favorable review. In fact, it was the third time that the ABA had unanimously declared Judge Roberts to be “well-qualified.” In 2001 and 2003, after President Bush nominated Judge Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the ABA unanimously issued a “well-qualified” opinion each time.
In March 2001, Mr. Bush rightly terminated the ABA’s role as the semi-official screening committee for prospective nominees to the federal judiciary. Democrats screamed. Mr. Leahy and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer wrote to the White House declaring that the ABA’s rating system represented the “gold standard” by which prospective nominees to the federal bench should be judged. The two Democrats warned in a press release that “[l]imiting the ABA’s role will harm the process of selecting and confirming federal judges and threatens the quality and integrity of the federal bench. As members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” they announced, “we will soon meet with the ABA to discuss how best to reincorporate them into the process.”
Mr. Bush sent his first batch of appellate-court nominees to the Senate in May 2001, and majority control of the Senate reverted to the Democrats the following month. With Democrats in control, the ABA began issuing its reviews after the nominees were announced. Interestingly, the ABA also unanimously ranked Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen as “well-qualified” in 2001, but the Democratic-controlled Senate ignored the Leahy-Schumer “gold standard” and refused to give up-or-down votes to any of the three. When Republicans regained control after the 2002 elections, Democrats filibustered Mr. Estrada and Judge Owen.
In enthusiastically endorsing Mr. Bush’s March 2001 decision to remove the highly politicized ABA from the screening process, this page noted that President Reagan should have made the same decision 14 years earlier. In 1987 four members of the ABA’s 15-member committee audaciously declared that D.C. appellate-court Judge Robert Bork was “not qualified” for the Supreme Court. That, despite the fact that the Senate had unanimously confirmed Judge Bork in 1982 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for which the ABA had unanimously deemed him “well-qualified” and where he had participated in more than 400 decisions, not one of which had been overturned by the Supreme Court. Then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden told The Washington Post that the ABA’s split vote over Judge Bork was “a big deal” and highly significant. Suddenly, Mr. Biden found Judge Bork to be outside the mainstream.
Now that the Democrats’ own “gold standard” system has given Judge Roberts yet another of its highest rankings, what contortions will Democrats undergo to smear him as they did Judge Bork?