The ABA has given Sonia Sotomayor a unanimous "well qualified" ranking. This is the highest possible ranking given to judicial nominees. Presidents and Congress have consulted the ABA judicial rankings since the 1950s. In 2001, however, President Bush rejected the ABA rankings, arguing that the organization was biased against conservatives, even though it gave Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts well qualified rankings (in addition to Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, Kennedy and O'Connor). Also President Reagan and President Bush I consulted the rankings.
ABA v. AFJ
Previous commentary regarding Sotomayor (e.g. Jeffrey Rosen's articles) mentioned her reviews in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. The AFJ, which is not even affiliated with or sponsored by the federal judiciary, is woefully inadequate as a measure of a judge's quality. The AFJ reports the comments from lawyers who have appeared before a judicial nominee. Sometimes these comments reflect the "emotional" reaction of the lawyers. There are reported cases where disgruntled attorneys intentionally wrote bad reviews for judges in order to harm their reputations.
Also, in a previous blog entry, I exposed the gender bias in the AFJ's reporting of attorney comments. While lawyers described Sotomayor and Scalia as being well prepared and tough at oral arguments, the AFJ presented these traits as a negative quality in Sotomayor but as a highly positive quality in Justice Scalia. This result mirrors social stereotypes that stigmatize intelligence and strength in women.
The ABA, by contrast, interviews lawyers, law professors, and judges, and it assembles teams of law professors and attorneys to evaluate the candidate's legal writings. Lawyers who testify about their experiences before the judge have to specify with precision the reasons for their assessment of the candidate. This process allows the evaluators to root out positive or negative bias and to make the process as objective as possible. The thorough review process makes the ABA rankings exceedingly more reliable than the AFJ, which often reads like a glorified tabloid. Sotomayor's excellent ABA ranking makes it virtually impossible at this point for her opponents to build a valid case against her confirmation.
PS: Sotomayor received a "well qualified" ranking before she became a District Judge. She received a split "well qualified" and "qualified" ranking prior to becoming a judge on the Second Circuit. Only a minority of reviewers, however, found her "qualified," rather than "well qualified." "Qualified" is the ABA's second-highest ranking.
Update: Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says I am wrong: Sessions: Sonia Sotomayor not a done deal. Yeah.