ABA Judicial Ratings as the 'Gold Standard' or Fool's Gold: Federal District Judge Ratings and Reversals
Royce de Rohan Barondes
University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law
June 30, 2010
This paper examines the relationship between reversals of federal district judges and the votes of the ABA Standing Committee in rating the judges at nomination. The primary sample comprises 94,665 appellate dispositions of 533 judges appointed by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush. Estimation techniques include hierarchical linear models with random effects, as well as models without random effects.
It is hypothesized lack of unanimity within the ABA committee is in part caused by the candidate being perceived as having an ideological bent and such a nominee, if confirmed, is more likely to be reversed. Nominees are, or the nomination process is, qualitatively different following the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Lack of unanimity is much more common in the later period. The relationship between lack of unanimity in the ABA committee voting and likelihood of reversal has changed over time. It has increased for judges appointed starting with President Clinton, primarily in appellate dispositions presenting non-procedural issues.
Similar results, albeit with smaller t-statistics, are found estimating the likelihood of a Shepard's warning signal within a sample of 131,931 district court opinions. Potential censoring arising from the ability not to issue a written decision captured in Lexis may account for the decreased significance.
Relative to judges rated Qualified, for judges appointed following George H.W. Bush's presidency, there is some evidence of a negative relationship between reversals and judges rated Well Qualified, which appears generally to be confined to appeals involving matters of procedure (as opposed to non-procedural legal doctrine). Somewhat surprisingly, there is some evidence of a negative relationship between the likelihood of reversal and the judge being rated Not Qualified. However, the commissioning of a judge rated Not Qualified is so rare that conclusions concerning the Not Qualified rating may well be unwarranted.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Keywords: judges, reversal rates, ABA ratings
JEL Classification: K40
Date posted: July 1, 2010