White House reportedly mulls asking judicial nominees to refuse interviews with ABA for ratings

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White House

President Donald Trump's administration is reportedly considering asking judicial nominees to refuse interviews with the ABA for its ratings process and to refuse to sign waivers that allow the association to access their disciplinary records.

The idea is reportedly being considered after the ABA gave a “not qualified” rating to Leonard Steven Grasz, a nominee to the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the New York Times reports, citing information from an unnamed source. The ABA had cited concerns about Grasz’s commitment to precedent that appeared to be affected by a “passionately held social agenda.”

The ABA hasn’t been informed of any new changes to the evaluation process.

ABA President Hilarie Bass had defended Grasz’s rating, saying the association’s reviews are nonpartisan and are based on integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament. The rating was based on interviews with 207 lawyers, judges and others.

The ABA reviews judicial nominees after they are nominated because of a decision made by the Trump administration. The ABA was invited into the nomination process in 1953, and every president except Trump and George W. Bush has sought pre-nomination screening of the potential candidates.

In four instances so far this year, U.S. Sen. Charles-Grassley, R-Iowa, has held confirmation hearings before the ABA completed its ratings. Two of those nominees later received “not qualified” ratings from the ABA.

One of them, the Times reports, is Holly Teeter, who fell “just shy of the bar group’s minimum standard of 12 years of experience.” The other is Brett Talley, who has “virtually no trial experience and who wrote politically charged blog posts on topics like gun rights,” according to the Times. Both were approved in committee and their nominations have been forwarded to the full Senate.

White House counsel Donald McGahn developed a strategy to fill the federal courts with young, conservative judges in a strategy session a few weeks before Donald Trump took office. The Times obtained its information on the plan from two anonymous sources.

The “secret battle plan”: Look for appeals courts with multiple openings in jurisdictions where Democratic senators face re-election in states won by Trump. Make nominations to those courts first, then quickly advance the nominations in the Senate.

“Nearly a year later, that plan is coming to fruition,” the Times reports. “Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon.” Grasz’s nomination is still pending.

There were 21 open appellate judgeships when Trump took office. Nearly half of the 150 active appeals judges are eligible for senior status. As a result, the Times says, Trump is poised to bring the conservative legal movement “to a new peak of influence over American law and society.”

Aiding the Republicans is a change made by Democrats in 2013 that barred filibusters of federal and appellate judicial nominees. Democrats were hurt when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015.

Some Republicans are also considering elimination of the blue-slip practice that requires consent from home state senators before the Senate Judiciary Committee proceeds with a federal judicial nomination.

Trump has made 18 nominations to the appeals courts, and so far 14 of the nominees are men and 16 are white, according to the Times. An Associated Press analysis of all of Trump’s judicial nominees found that 91 percent of Trump’s nominees are white, and 81 percent are male. The Senate has approved 13 judges so far, including the eight appeals judges.

Story updated on Nov. 14.

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