A restoration farce

Three political scientists have completed a study they say demonstrates that the ratings of federal court of appeals nominees by the American Bar Association are biased against conservative nominees (hat tip: Matthew Sheffield). The study constructed an ideology measure for appeals court nominees and a model to explain the roles of other factors — experience, career path, education, race/gender, and political affiliation — in ABA evaluations. It then applied that model to every federal court of appeals nominee from 1985 to 2008.

It’s unlikely that anyone will be shocked by the finding that the ABA ratings are slanted in favor of liberals. Among the un-shocked surely will be President Obama who, the ABA announced yesterday, has reversed Bush administration policy and restored the ABA’s role of reviewing prospective nominees before the president formally nominates them.

The ABA’s penchant for favoring liberals might well have been on display in the very circumstances associated with Obama’s decision. Ed Whelan points out that the ABA’s announcement came on the same day that President Obama made his first judicial nomination, David Hamilton, and on the same day that the ABA committee issued its rating (“well qualified”) of Hamilton. It would have been impossible, of course, for the ABA to issue that rating without previously having had its role restored. Thus, as Ed argues, the restoration of the ABA’s role surely preceded the announcment of that restoration.

Why the delay, and why did the announcement, when it finally came, evade the question of when the restoration occurred. Ed speculates that “the White House asked the ABA to keep mum — in order to avoid giving conservative opposition a heads-up that nominations might be imminent — and that the ABA happily complied with this purely political request.”

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