I wrote here about Goodwin Liu, the leftist law professor nominated by President Obama for a spot on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Among my observations was that Liu has only practiced law in earnest for two or three years. The rest of his time since graduating from law school has been spent as a law clerk or a law professor.
Moreover, Liu appears to have no trial experience. Nor, as far as I can tell, has he ever argued a case before a court of appeal.
None of this means that Liu is unqualified to be a federal appellate court judge, but it would seem to preclude him from receiving the American Bar Association’s coveted “highly qualified” rating. After all, according to the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary’s explanation of its standards for rating judicial nominees, “a prospective nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least twelve years’ experience in the practice of law.” Further, “the Committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important.”
Yet the ABA has rated Liu “highly qualified.” To further demonstrate the outlandishness of this rating, consider the ABA’s evaluation of Frank Easterbrook who was nominated to the Seventh Circuit by President Reagan and has gone on to become one of the top appellate judges in the country.
As Ed Whelan reminds us, the ABA gave Easterbrook the low rating of “qualified/not qualified.” However, Easterbrook had better qualifications than Liu. According to Ed, at the time of his nomination, Easterbrook had been out of law school for 11 years (compared to 12 for Liu). After a judicial clerkship, Easterbrook had spent four years in the Office of the Solicitor General, first as an Assistant to the Solicitor General, then as Deputy Solicitor General. As a government lawyer who dealt on occasion with the Solicitor General’s office, I can report that Easterbrook was considered a superstar even as measured by the high standards of that shop.
By the time of his nomination, Easterbrook he had argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court. And he had spent about as much time in academia as Liu.
The only plausible explanation for rating Liu more highly than Easterbrook (never mind significantly more highly) is ideology. Liu is a left-liberal; Easterbrook was and is on the other side of the spectrum.
It’s no scoop that the ABA’s ratings are a sham. But the Liu/Easterbrook comparison provides a timely reminder of the nauseating degree to which this is the case.
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