ABA Gives “Not Qualified” Rating to 14 of 185 Proposed Obama Judicial Nominees

Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports:

The American Bar Association has secretly declared a significant number of President Obama’s potential judicial nominees “not qualified,” slowing White House efforts to fill vacant judgeships — and nearly all of the prospects given poor ratings were women or members of an ethnic minority group, according to interviews.

The White House has chosen not to nominate any person the bar association deemed unqualified, so the negative ratings have not been made public. But the association’s judicial vetting committee has opposed 14 of the roughly 185 potential nominees the administration asked it to evaluate, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The number of Obama prospects deemed “not qualified” already exceeds the total number opposed by the group during the eight-year administration of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush; the rejection rate is more than three and a half times as high than under each of the previous two presidencies, documents and interviews show.

That outcome has added a new twist to a long-running friction in the politics of judicial nominations. During recent Republican administrations, conservatives have made political hay of accusing the A.B.A. of bias against conservative potential judges. In 2001, President Bush stopped sending the group names of prospects before he selected them, so the panel instead rated them after their nomination. In 2009, Mr. Obama restored the panel’s role in the pre-nomination selection process, which dates to the Eisenhower administration.

In discussions with bar panel leaders, administration officials have expressed growing frustrations with the ratings over the past year and a half, people familiar with those conversations said. In particular, they are said to have questioned whether the panelists — many of whom are litigators — place too much value on courtroom experience at the expense of lawyers who pursued career paths less likely to involve trials, like government lawyers and law professors.

You can view the members of the ABA vetting committee here. According to the story, 13 of the 14 individuals given a “not qualified” rating were nominated for vacancies on the District Court.

I’m curious what the back-story is here. My understanding is that certain presidents have used the ABA evaluation as a way of blocking candidates, especially district court judges, who they didn’t want but that certain Senators pressed; after the ABA returns a judgment of “not qualified,” the President can go back to the Senator and say he needs another nominee. That may be what is happening here; it’s hard to know.