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 Home > News & Policies > March 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2001

Letter to the ABA From AL Gonzales
March 22, 2001

Dear Ms. Barnett:

Thank you for taking the time to meet with Attorney General Ashcroft and me on March 19. We very much appreciated the opportunity to visit with you and benefited from your perspective on the judicial selection process. In addition to hearing from you, we have carefully studied and considered the history and practice of American Bar Association involvement in judicial selection. Although the President welcomes the ABA's suggestions concerning judicial nominees, the Administration will not notify the ABA of the identity of a nominee before the nomination is submitted to the Senate and announced to the public.

There is a long tradition by which Members of Congress, interest groups, and individual citizens provide suggestions to the President about potential judges. We will continue to welcome such suggestions from all sources, including the ABA. The issue at hand, however, is quite different: whether the ABA alone -- out of the literally dozens of groups and many individuals who have a strong interest in the composition of the federal courts -- should receive advance notice of the identities of potential nominees in order to render pre-nomination opinions on their fitness for judicial service. In our view, granting any single group such a preferential, quasi-official role in the nomination process would be unfair to the other groups that also have strong interests in judicial selection. As Senator Biden asked in 1994, ?Why the ABA and not the National Bar Association?? The same question could be asked with respect to numerous other groups.

The question, in sum, is not whether the ABA's voice should be heard in the judicial selection process. Rather, the question is whether the ABA should play a unique, quasi-official role and thereby have its voice heard before and above all others. We do not think that kind of preferential arrangement is either appropriate or fair.

It would be particularly inappropriate, in our view, to grant a preferential, quasi-official role to a group, such as the ABA, that takes public positions on divisive political, legal, and social issues that come before the courts. This is not to suggest that the ABA should not adopt policy positions or express its views. But considerations of sound constitutional government suggest that the President not grant a preferential, quasi-official role in the judicial selection process to a politically active group.

Our decision to treat the ABA in the same manner as all other interested parties mirrors the approach taken in recent decades by Presidents of both parties with respect to Supreme Court nominees, as well as the approach taken by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1997 when it ended the ABA's quasi-official role in the Senate confirmation process. As Chairman Hatch explained at that time, ?[p]ermitting a political interest group to be elevated to an officially sanctioned role in the confirmation process not only debases that process, but, in my view, ultimately detracts from the moral authority of the courts themselves.?

Finally, let me reiterate that the Administration fully welcomes the ABA, like other interested parties, to provide suggestions regarding potential judges. Similarly, once the President submits a nomination to the Senate, the ABA like every other interested party is free to evaluate and express its views concerning the President's nominee.

Thank you again for your time and your views, as well as for your service to the ABA and the profession. The Administration looks forward to working with you in the months ahead on issues of concern to the legal profession.

Sincerely yours,

Alberto R. Gonzales
Counsel to the President

Ms. Martha W. Barnett President, American Bar Association c/o Holland & Knight, LLP 315 South Calhoun Street, Suite 600 Tallahassee, FL 32301