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ABA panel nixed Obama’s judge candidates

UPDATED AND CORRECTED: Because sometimes this blogger writes a little too early in the morning before her eyes are fully working properly, this blog post erroneously stated that more than 90 percent of suggested federal judge nominees received the poorest rating from the ABA vetting panel. It was actually the reverse – more than 90 percent did not receive that rating. DC Dicta regrets the error.

The vast majority of the Obama administration’s potential judicial nominees were rejected before they reached the nomination stage – all due to poor ratings by the American Bar Association.

The New York Times reports that the ABA’s judicial vetting committee gave more than 90 percent of the president’s proposed federal judgeship candidates ratings of “not qualified.” Correction: the committee gave 14 or 185 judge candidates the rating of “not qualified.”

In three years, the committee has already given the lowest rating to more potential Obama nominees than it gave to potential nominees during the eight-year administrations of President Bill Clinton or President George W. Bush, according to the Times report.

The identities of the particular nominees who were rejected has not been disclosed, but according to the sources cited in the Times report, most were women or members of minority groups. The Obama administration has expressed a policy goal to diversify the benches of the nation’s federal courts.

Obama’s White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, said in a statement: “Although we may not agree with all of their ratings, we respect and value their historical role in evaluating judicial candidates. The president remains committed to addressing the judicial vacancy crisis with urgency and with qualified candidates who bring a diverse range of experience to the bench.”

ABA sides with law school in student group case

In a Supreme Court battle between the right of a law school to enforce rules barring discrimination and students’ First Amendment right to free association, the American Bar Association has taken the side of the law school.

In an amicus brief filed at the Court Tuesday, the ABA acknowledged the importance of both rights, but urged the Court to affirm the balance struck in the 9th Circuit decision.

The 9th Circuit held that the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law did not unduly suppress students’ speech rights when it denied funding and the use of the Hastings name to a Christian student group that excluded gay students and non-Christians from its membership.

“While public universities have a unique interest in protecting free speech, they also have a substantial and justified interest in enforcing neutral nondiscrimination policies by refusing to subsidize student organizations that discriminate against members of the school community on bases that the school deems inconsistent with its own mission of creating an educational environment characterized by equality and fairness,” the brief states. “[A]s this court’s government-funding cases make plain, even though organizations that receive government financial assistance have a protected interest in the integrity of their message, public institutions may impose reasonable regulations on receipt of financial and other assistance.”

Oral arguments in the case are set for April 19.

Links to the briefing on both sides can be found on the ABA web page.

Friday morning docket: Getting help to Haiti

The event that has dominated mainstream news all week – the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – is being felt in the American legal community as well. Lawyers are among the missing in the wake of the quake, and their family members have been taking to social networking sites in hopes of getting work that they are safe.

Meanwhile, American Bar Association President Carolyn B. Lamm is has asked members of the legal community to support humanitarian relief efforts to the country, and many attorneys and firms have done so already.

President Barack Obama has pledged $100 million in U.S. aid to the country, a figure that was matched by the World Bank, and the disaster came just as the White House was preparing to announce new policies aimed at improving U.S.-Haiti relations.

Now for a look at some legal news:

AAJ’s agenda: The nation’s largest trial attorney group has announced that it will focus on boosting consumer protections and promoting corporate accountability as part of its legislative agenda this year. (Lawyers USA)

Special courts for failing banks? The Senate is considering a plan that would create specialized bankruptcy courts for struggling banks and financial services firms, according to a report from Reuters.(Reuters, via Lawyers USA)

O’Connor on elections: Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been advocating against the practice of electing judges, will be the keynote speaker at a Georgetown University Law Center forum focusing on two Supreme Court cases about elections. (The BLT Blog)

The day Thomas almost said something: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick was all excited when it appeared that Clarence Thomas would make his first oral argument remark in years. “We all start craning and gaping. And then Thomas… takes off his glasses, tips his head back up against his headrest, and closes his eyes.” (Slate)