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Examining the American Bar Association's Ratings of Nominees to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for Political Bias, 1989-2000


James Lindgren


Northwestern University - School of Law


Journal of Law and Politics, October 2001

Abstract:     
In this study, Professor Lindgren examined data on the 108 confirmed nominees to the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal from the administrations of George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton. He shows - for the first time - evidence of differential treatment of nominees by the American Bar Association's rating committee. Yet this is not a simple story of apparent ABA bias toward Clinton nominees. Among confirmed nominees with the most important credential - prior judicial experience - Bush nominees fare roughly as well and sometimes even better than Clinton nominees.

The problem arises for those without judicial experience. Here the apparent preference for Clinton appointees is strikingly large. Without controlling for any credentials, Clinton confirmed nominees have 9.1 times as high odds of getting a unanimous well qualified rating as do Bush confirmed nominees. Controlling for credentials, Clinton nominees have 9.7-15.9 times as high odds of getting a unanimous well qualified ABA rating as similarly credentialed Bush appointees. For those without prior judicial experience, just being nominated by Clinton instead of Bush is a stronger positive variable than any other credential or than all other credentials put together.
The differences in how the ABA treats Bush and Clinton nominees reaches even to the committee's internal decision making. The ABA committee split its vote 33% of the time while evaluating Bush appointees, but only 17% of the time when evaluating Clinton appointees. This difference was concentrated among those who lacked prior judicial experience, where 50% of Bush appointees had split ratings, compared to only 10% of Clinton appointees with split ratings.

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Date posted: November 14, 2001  

Suggested Citation

Lindgren, James, Examining the American Bar Association's Ratings of Nominees to the U.S. Courts of Appeals for Political Bias, 1989-2000. Journal of Law and Politics, October 2001. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=290186 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.290186

Contact Information

James T. Lindgren (Contact Author)
Northwestern University - School of Law ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Unit 1505
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
773-294-9043 (Phone)

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