An article in the Wall Street Journal last week examines the procedures used by the American Bar Association to review and rate the qualifications of those nominated to serve as federal judges, from federal district court judges up to members of the Supreme Court (“The Data That Goes Into Judging Judges/In some cases, hundreds of confidential interviews are conducted to assess candidates’ credentials“).
The ABA has a 15-member committee with members–all lawyers–serving staggered terms. The committee works independent of the ABA’s hierarchy when doing their assessments.
Among those who may be interviewed, according to a spokesman for the ABA, are federal, state and administrative judges before whom the nominee has appeared; lawyers who have been co-counsel or opposing counsel in cases handled by the candidate; and, if the candidate is a former or sitting judge, other judges who have served with the nominee.
Interviews also may be conducted with law school professors and deans; legal services and public interest lawyers; representatives of professional legal organizations; and community leaders and others who have information concerning the nominee’s professional qualifications.
In addition, two reading groups, one with law professors, the other with ?practitioners, examine the nominee’s legal writings for quality, clarity, analytical ability and knowledge of law.
The committee rates nominees it considers to be preeminent members of the profession with outstanding legal ability and exceptional experience as well qualified. It rates those it considers fully equipped to serve as qualified. And those who fall short in one or more areas as not qualified.
Since 1999, the group has rated 1,074 nominees, concluding that nine weren’t qualified, 369 were qualified and 696 were well qualified.
That’s a very robust process, for sure.
I’ll have to go looking for a description of the Hawaii Bar Association’s evaluation process.
Meanwhile, there’s also a possible comparison to the Hawaii’s Judicial Selection Commission, with its nine members. No more than four are lawyers. Two members each are appointed by the Governor, the Hawaii Bar Association, the Senate President, and the House Speaker. The Chief Justice appoints a single member.
The rules of the commission are long on procedures and short on substance. Here’s the brief section regarding information gathering on judicial nominees.
Rule 9. INTERVIEWS AND INVESTIGATIONS
The commission may interview applicants and petitioners and conduct investigations into their backgrounds and qualifications. The chairperson may designate one or more commissioners to interview and investigate applicants and petitioners. Using the commission’s form of application or petition or as the case may be, as a starting point, the designees may obtain as much information on the applicant or petitioner as possible from available sources. The commission may retain such services as it deems necessary and appropriate to conduct investigations.
Exactly what does that translate to in terms of evaluating a nominees abilities? We don’t know, because the process is secret.