W A S H I N G T O N, March 22 -- President Bush today ended the American Bar Association's traditional role in helping the White House screen prospective nominees to the Supreme Court and other federal courts.
The move had been telegraphed for days, but was made official today in a letter to ABA President Martha Barnett from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.
"It would be particularly inappropriate, in our view, to grant a preferential, quasi-official role to a group, such as the ABA, that takes public positions on divisive political, legal, and social issues that come before the courts," Gonzales wrote.
For 50 years, the ABA has helped presidents by reviewing the qualifications of nominees. While conservatives have complained the ABA tilts liberal, the group argues its judicial ratings are made by an independent panel that includes many respected Republicans.
Gonzales wrote that the White House would continue to consult the ABA, but will not consult the group "before and above all others."
"Although the president welcomes the ABA's suggestionsconcerning judicial nominees, the administration will notnotify the ABA of the identity of a nominee before thenomination is submitted to the Senate and announced to thepublic," Gonzales wrote.
Barnett told reporters today she is "disheartened" by the decision, which was green-lighted by Bush after she met with Gonzales and Attorney General John Ashcroft on Monday.
"We are concerned that politics may be taking the place of professionalism in the review and we are hopeful that as the process goes forward, that the administration will find a way to make sure ... that they can continue to get confidential peer review of people who are nominated for the federal bench," Barnett said.
Exchanging Quality for Ideology?
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, derided the decision as a "sad day for American justice."
"It looks as though they are going to substitute ideology for quality," Schumer said. "For the last 50 years, the ABA was an essential part of the process, making sure that there was quality rather than ideology. Now all of that has changed."