Adam Liptak usually writes about interesting stuff -- interesting, at least, to lawyers. Today he takes the measure of a new study about American Bar Association ratings of nominees for U.S. court of appeals judgeships between 1985 and 2008.
The report, Bias and the Bar: Evaluating the ABA Ratings of Federal Judicial Nominees, summarizes its conclusions thus:
We find both that, all else being equal, Democatic/liberal nominees are more likely to receive the ABA's highest rating of "Well Qualified" than their Republican counterparts, but also that the ABA relies on more traditional measures of professional qualifications, such as prior experience as a judge or Circuit Court clerk, when rating nominees to the federal appellate courts. Our results lead us to conclude that the ABA should take affirmative steps to ensure liberal candidates are not being unconsciously favored and rated. In particular, our findings suggest that there is some systematic component of the evaluation process, possibly the use of the "judicial temperament" criterion, which lends itself to lower ratings of more conservative nominees.
Mr. Liptak notes a possible limitation in the data -- that, during the Clinton presidency (1993-2000), potential nominees underwent a secret ABA vetting but that President George W. Bush (2001-08) nominated candidates before the ABA rated them. He says that "[w]hat cannot be known is how many [Clinton] nominations were never formally presented after the bar association confidentially conveyed a low rating to the White House."
No doubt the subject deserves discussion. What do you think?