This weekend, the Providence Journal reported the disappointing news that the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary did not give a unanimous “qualified” rating in regards to the nomination of Superior Court Associate Justice O. Rogeriee Thompson to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
A majority of the 15 members of the committee gave Judge Thompson a “qualified” rating, but, for some unknown reason, the vote was not unanimous. The reason for the vote not being unanimous will not come to light until Judge Thompson’s nomination goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee: a committee on which sits one of Judge Thompson’s biggest supporters – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. And, while this speed bump in the nomination process may give ammunition to some Republicans to attempt to derail Judge Thompson’s nomination, her strong track record as a seasoned trial court judge has the support of the White House and Rhode Island’s two US Senators.
…The president made the nomination knowing the committee’s rating, according to committee practice, and continued to back Thompson this week. “The White House strongly supports Judge Thompson’s nomination to the first circuit and remains confident the Senate will support her nomination as well,” a White House official said in a statement to The Journal.
The committee’s work is highly confidential and considered to be an independent, non-partisan evaluation of a nominee’s fitness for the bench. It does not reveal the reasons behind its ratings or how votes were cast. A written statement only becomes public if the committee is asked to present its findings to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as is the case whenever any committee members rate a nominee not qualified, Steigerwalt said. Thompson will also get the opportunity then to say why she is qualified for the seat.
…Of the 272 nominees between 1985 and 2006, only 31 received split ratings of qualified and not qualified and only one was deemed not qualified altogether, according to Steigerwalt. Twenty-three were confirmed despite the split ratings, she said.
One of the judges to receive a split rating is Judge Richard A. Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, a highly esteemed judge. That rating, in the 1980s, won the committee criticism as left leaning.
I agree with another attorney blogger – Brassband at RIFuture.org – that Judge Thompson’s two decades of experience as a state trial court judge will greatly benefit the First Circuit. I join him in hoping that the Senate goes about its business quickly and confirms Judge Thompson’s nomination.