Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Republicans yesterday blamed bias for the American Bar Association’s decision to downgrade a Bush judicial nominee’s rating from “well-qualified” to “qualified,” before a second hearing demanded by Democrats.

“It’s telling that the only thing that lowered his rating was his service in the Bush White House,” a Republican aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday. “And the group that lowered it is more partisan than the ABA represents itself.”

A 14-member ABA committee changed Brett M. Kavanaugh’s rating last month in part because six members downgraded their rating from the last time the White House aide was reviewed, panel Chairman Steven Tober said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Tober wrote yesterday to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Mr. Kavanaugh is “indeed qualified to serve on the federal bench.”

“This nominee enjoys a solid reputation for integrity, intellectual capacity and writing and analytical ability,” Mr. Tober wrote. “The concern has been and remains focused on the breadth of his professional experience.”

Mr. Tober said interviews conducted since the ABA’s previous rating of Mr. Kavanaugh last year raised “additional concern over whether this nominee is so insulated that he will be unable to judge fairly in the future.”

Republicans expressed little concern over the new rating, partly because Mr. Kavanaugh remains “qualified” and partly because they have long contended that the ABA has such a liberal bent.

Washington divorce lawyer Marna S. Tucker, a registered Democrat, conducted the most recent interview of Mr. Kavanaugh and delivered testimony on behalf of the ABA over the telephone yesterday for the Judiciary Committee hearing today.

Ms. Tucker has donated more than $10,000 to Democratic candidates and causes, according to Federal Election Commission records at www.politicalmoneyline.com, a Web site that tracks campaign contributions. She has never given to Republicans, according to the site.

The Washington Post described her as a “prominent liberal” in 1991 and the following year noted her friendship with Hillary Rodham Clinton, now a Democratic senator from New York.

Ms. Tucker also is a founding member and board director of the National Women’s Law Center, an organization committed to abortion rights and other liberal causes.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Kavanaugh still is a good pick for the post.

“In 42 votes cast in the three ABA reviews, all 42 found Mr. Kavanaugh to be qualified or well-qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit,” she said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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