Supreme Court Appointments: Judge Bork and the Politicization of Senate Confirmations

By Norman Vieira; Leonard Gross | Go to book overview

12
THE ABA

The first witnesses to testify after Judge Bork were the representatives of the American Bar Association (ABA). Traditionally, the ABA has tried to exert substantial influence over the selection of federal judges. Since 1952, the ABA has had a formal role in the process of screening judicial candidates. But even before that, the organization was active in scrutinizing various applicants for the federal bench. Recently, the ABA's participation in the screening process has been rather controversial, and its role in the Bork proceedings seemed to peak that controversy.

In September 1987, the ABA's Standing Committee on the Judiciary formally gave Judge Bork an endorsement of sorts, but four of its fifteen members said Bork was unqualified for the Supreme Court. To the general public, this may not have been particularly noteworthy. To insiders, however, the ABA seemed to have fired a shot that would resound long after the Bork hearings were concluded.

As early as September 4, rumors were circulating that the ABA's Standing Committee had not been unanimous in support of Judge Bork. The story was confirmed on September 10: After exhaustive interviews and lengthy discussion, Bork had been recommended by the Standing Committee on essentially a two-thirds vote. Ten members of the committee found Bork to be "well qualified," the highest ranking available for Supreme Court nominees. Four members voted "not qualified," and one member voted "not opposed."1 Although there had been divided votes on nominees for lower federal courts, much would be made of the fact that the committee had been unanimous on all Supreme Court nominations for nearly twenty years.2

White House and Justice Department officials responded quickly to

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