Bench Memos

ABA’s Flip on Vanessa Bryant

When Connecticut judge Vanessa Bryant was first nominated to a federal district judgeship in January 2006, the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated her “not qualified”.  Specifically, a “substantial majority” of the committee—10 to 13 of the 14 voting members—rated her “not qualified”, and a minority (1 to 4 members) rated her “qualified”.  (In cases like this where the committee divides, the majority rating is deemed the official rating.)


Following President Bush’s resubmission of Bryant’s nomination last month, the ABA committee yesterday flipped its rating, with a substantial majority rating Bryant qualified and a minority rating her not qualified.  (Here’s a story on the flip.  The story errs slightly in stating that a “majority” (which, in ABA committee jargon, is only 8 or 9 members) has now found her qualified.)   


What explains the new rating?


Well, it’s possible that changes in membership—7 of the 14 voting members appear to be new—account for the new rating.  It’s also possible that the higher rating reflects new information acquired over the past year.  But the most plausible explanation, I think, is that the ABA committee figured out that Bryant was going to be confirmed irrespective of the ABA’s “not qualified” rating and decided to try to save face and preserve the future impact of its negative ratings.


Ed Whelan — Ed Whelan is a leading commentator on nominations to the Supreme Court and the lower courts and on issues of constitutional law.

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