Behind the hearing

February 12, 2010
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The major snowstorm that pummeled Washington, D.C., this week isn’t the only thing creating a chill in the air. Comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., toward the American Bar Association’s process for evaluating federal judicial nominees could be described as frosty.

At the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on six nominees for the federal bench – including three from Indiana – Reid said the ABA shouldn’t penalize a nominee for not having prior experience on the bench. He said the comments with the nominee from his own state in mind, Gloria Navarro, but the comments also apply to Indiana nominee Jon DeGuilio, who has never served on the bench.

“I think the ABA should get a new life and look at whether people are qualified, not whether they have judicial experience,” Reid said.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Navarro as qualified, but a minority of the committee rated her as not qualified. Reid said that was out of concern because she had never been a judge. He went on to say the judiciary is “out of touch” and criticized the judges’ robes and “fancy chambers.”

The ABA committee rated DeGuilio as qualified; the substantial majority found Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton to be well qualified with a minority finding her to be qualified. The ABA committee rated U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson qualified as well.

The ABA started evaluating federal judicial nominees in 1948, and began evaluating them for presidents starting with President Dwight. D. Eisenhower in 1953. While it may evaluate the judges, the committee doesn’t recommend or endorse any particular candidate.

Indiana’s Democratic Senator Evan Bayh spoke later in the hearing, giving a statement that included encouraging senators to adopt the “Hoosier approach” of working across party lines to select consensus nominees. After his statement, Bayh took a moment to say the judicial confirmation process is “too often consumed by ideological differences and partisan acrimony, and that it's not how the Framers wanted us to exercise our authority.”

I would say Bayh’s comment should extend past the judiciary and on to nominees for other posts, say the Office of Legal Counsel for the Department of Justice.
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