Monday, March 30, 2009

Bias or Confirmation?

I was both amused and exasperated by an article in the NY Times today about a study indicating "bias" on the part of the American Bar Association (ABA) in their ratings of Supreme Court nominees (Legal Group's Neutrality is Challenged).  Essentially, a series of studies (the most recent by Amy Steigerwalt at the University of Georgia -- no indications what her political leanings are) concluded that liberal nominees do better in the process than conservative ones.  John Ashcroft cited such a study to explain why the Bush administration didn't cooperate with the ABA.

The ABA says their ratings are based on "professional competence, integrity, and judicial temperament."  Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all received the ABA's highest ratings.

"But," continues the article,  "Justice Clarence Thomas was given a split rating of 'qualified' and 'not qualified.'  Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination was rejected by the Senate in 1987, received a curious split decision, with the majority calling him 'well qualified' but four members saying he was 'unqualified.'"

Hmm.  Does any informed observer really think Clarence Thomas was a good nominee or has served any meaningful role on the Supreme Court? (He's written fewer opinions than any other justice, by an order of magnitude.) Or that we'd be better off if the Senate had confirmed Robert Bork? (Egads!)  Rather than indicating bias, is it not possible that this study confirms that certain administrations have less interest in qualified justices with competence, integrity and even-handedness in judicial temperament?

Where do journalists (and, apparently, political scientists) get the idea that unbiased means everything working out equally for two sides?  By those lights, the last election was biased because Obama won handily.  It couldn't have had anything to do with his qualifications, integrity or temperament...

If the ABA cannot find it in their collective heart to grant the highest ratings to men like Thomas and Bork, well, that is merely proof of their professional competence and integrity. Keep up the good work, folks.

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