Bench Memos

ABA’s Askew Evaluation of Sotomayor?

The American Bar Association’s unanimous rating of Judge Sotomayor as “well qualified” for the Supreme Court is no surprise.  Further, given the ABA’s declaration (page 9 here) that its evaluation “is directed solely to [a nominee’s] professional qualifications [of] integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament” and “does not take into account the nominee’s [judicial] philosophy,” I have no quarrel that a neutral application of the ABA’s criteria might reasonably yield a unanimous “well qualified” rating.

I do wonder, though, whether a neutral evaluation in fact occurred.  My question is based on these facts:

1.  Kim J. Askew, the head of the ABA’s judicial-evaluations committee, evidently played a lead role in the committee’s evaluation.  (The AP story on the ABA’s rating quotes Askew, and Askew is slated to be a witness, in her ABA capacity, at Sotomayor’s hearing.)

2.  According to the website of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights, Askew remains a member of the board of trustees of LCCR.  (I’ll note, though, that Askew’s own law-firm bio makes no reference to her service, past or present, on that board.)

3.  The Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in the New Haven firefighters case, Ricci v. DeStefano, that argued that the controversial Second Circuit ruling by Sotomayor and her panel colleagues should be affirmed. 

Ricci, of course is not just one case among many.  Rather, it’s been a focus of concerns about Sotomayor’s impartiality.  Thus, it would seem to me very strange that the ABA’s evaluation of Sotomayor would be led by someone who is apparently a member of the board of trustees of an organization that submitted an amicus brief in Ricci.  Who worse to assess Sotomayor’s commitment to impartiality than someone whose own commitment to impartiality in conducting that assessment may reasonably be questioned?

My questions about Askew’s role are reinforced by her previous failings in her committee role.

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