Bizarre political sect ousted from nomination proc

Posted: Mar 29, 2001 12:00 AM
A few years ago I was bitterly disappointed to discover that Judge Pasco Bowman, the otherwise impeccable federal judge I clerked for after law school, had gotten a "qualified" rating from the American Bar Association. Maybe even -- God forbid -- "well qualified." I don't remember, it was a dark day. Upon discovering this contretemps, I called him to complain. Almost all the cool guys had gotten "qualified/not qualified" ratings -- what was the matter with him?

Among the judicial nominees who won the ABA's desirable "qualified/not qualified" rating is Judge Richard Posner -- once described by archliberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. as one of the two geniuses he had ever met. Others include Judges Frank Easterbrook, Stephen Williams, James Buckley, Jerry Smith and Laurence Silberman.

If there were a dream team of federal appellate judges, these guys would be on it (as would Judge Bowman, but for nagging questions about that ABA endorsement).

Clarence Thomas got an impressive "qualified/not qualified" rating from the ABA -- the lowest score ever given to a Supreme Court nominee. Meanwhile, David Souter -- that jurisprudential giant, plucked from a state court where he had been deciding pig trespassing cases -- was unanimously voted "highly qualified."

Finally and most acclaimed, the ABA ratings committee couldn't decide whether Judge Robert Bork was qualified. Four members voted him "not qualified." (The head of the ABA's selection committee then perjured himself by telling a Senate committee that reasonable minds could differ about Bork's qualifications.) Let's compare LSAT scores.

Demonstrating its eagle eye for ferreting out unfit judges, the ABA gave "qualified" or "well qualified" ratings to all three federal judges who were later impeached. So you can understand why Senate Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Patrick Leahy are upset that President Bush is scrapping a fine-tuned system like this.

In my judge's defense: 1) Despite the ABA adjudging him "qualified," Judge Bowman has never been impeached; and 2) Justice Antonin Scalia also got a "qualified" rating -- "well qualified" by the time he was nominated to the Supreme Court. (Keep your eye on that guy.)

I've been going to ABA annual conventions every few years since my parents took me as a little kid. It used to be that you couldn't get on an elevator at the hotel without stepping on a Supreme Court justice, an appellate court judge or a U.S. senator. Big important people gave big important speeches.

Now it's all nobodies. Every single panel discussion is on women and minorities.

That's not entirely fair. The ABA still has marquee speakers, but instead of prominent lawyers they're prominent criminals. After he was impeached and held in contempt by a federal court, the ABA invited Bill Clinton to speak. Also joining the list of celebrated felons was ex-con Webster Hubbell.

Maybe they could get O.J. for one of the minority panels next year. There's no one left to complain -- everyone serious has resigned.

The first wave of resignations came in 1987 when the ABA couldn't decide on Judge Bork's qualifications. The next major exodus came in 1992 when, on a break from peace demonstrations, the House of Delegates declared the ABA in favor of abortion on demand. For months, the resignations came in by the thousands.

After that, the ABA got loopier and loopier. One distinguished federal judge claims to join every few years just so he can resign in protest. Another said he was compelled to resign because the "impartiality of any judge who continues to belong to the ABA is subject to serious question."

For years now, the ABA has been issuing wild proclamations more appropriate to Sister Souljah than a professional association of lawyers. One former ABA president, George Bushnell, called the Republican leadership in Congress "reptilian bastards." (Why couldn't my judge have gotten that appellation?)

The esteemed president also called the Contract With America "an attack on the Constitution comparable to that of the invasion of our shores by foreign forces." You remember the Contract With America? It included pernicious ideas like a balanced budget amendment and tax incentives for adoption.

Two ABA presidents have viciously denounced a proposed flag-burning amendment. Instead of saluting the American flag, the ABA probably has a special session on how to burn it. One, Roberta Ramo, said the flag-burning amendment proved Congress "has lost sight of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights as our nation's lodestar and our soul." The other -- Bushnell again - said Sen. Bob Dole's support for it had compromised his "decency as an individual."

Under the decency police at the ABA, former Weatherman, erstwhile member of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, Manson-family-admiring Bernadine Dohrn was put in charge of the ABA's Litigation Task Force on Children. ("We are tremendously fortunate to have her," Bushnell said.)

But my judge is "qualified"? I demand a recount.