Bias, the Bar, and the Big Picture: Evaluating Circuit Court Nominees' ABA Ratings from 1953 to 2011
43 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 28 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
Recent work on potential bias in the ABA ratings of federal judges has sparked some controversy, showing that the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary (SCFJ) systematically rates Republican nominees to the US Courts of Appeal lower than Democratic nominees (Smelcer, Steigerwalt and Vining 2012). This paper builds on that research in three ways: (1) it replicates the basic finding that the SCFJ has shown bias against Republican nominees when it comes to the “well qualified” rating; (2) it shows that this bias remains even if all nominees (1953-2011) officially rated by the ABA are included in the analysis; and (3) it presents weak evidence that the SCFJ was not politically biased from the Eisenhower through Carter administrations. Using hypotheses derived from the issue evolution and conflict extension frameworks, I suggest a mechanism for the observed change from professionally-motivated to politically-influenced ratings from the SCFJ.
Keywords: judges, confirmation process, political change, judicial nominations
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