The American Bar Association, you'll recall, unanimously rated Fifth Circuit Michael Wallace "not qualified" -- the first such rating it has given to a circuit court nominee in nearly a quarter century and only the second such rating since it started vetting nominees some 50 years ago. We found out the other day that the rare rating was based on numerous reports that Mr. Wallace lacked "judicial temperament." In other words, many lawyers and judges who know him well expressed grave concerns over whether he was committed to equal justice, open-minded and free from bias.
Predictably, movement conservatives are up in arms. And in their scramble to salvage the nomination, they have taken up one of their favorite pastimes: pillorying the ABA's supposed liberal bias. Informing tendentious reporting by FOX News, right-wing blogs like Professor Bainbridge and the National Review's Bench Memos (see here and here) have mounted a furious campaign to discredit the ABA's rating of Wallace. (The campaign may be having an impact, as Senator Specter has openly questioned the Wallace rating, has called for the ABA to deviate from its policies and disclose the names of all those who criticized Mr. Wallace, and is convening today a Judiciary Committee hearing on the ABA's conduct). The blogs say, for instance, that Kim Askew, the member of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary responsible for reviewing Mr. Wallace's qualifications, was appointed in an "obvious effort to stack [the Committee's] composition." They point out that she is on the board of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, note that the Lawyers' Committee was a litigant in a voting rights case 20 years ago where Mr. Wallace took the other side, and highlight the fact that she has contributed $300 to Senator Barbara Boxer and $1500 to her hometown mayoral candidate, Ron Kirk.
But here's what they're either downplaying or just not telling you. On the downplaying front: Ms. Askew gave $250 to Bush for President, a fact the bloggers dismiss as "explicable only as the price of being in a major Dallas law firm." On the "not telling" front: Thomas Hayward, who shared responsibilities with Ms. Askew for reviewing the Wallace nomination, donated over $ 20,000 to the Republican National Committee, the Republican Illinois State Committee and Republican candidates dating back to 1989. This dwarfs the contributions that Ms. Askew made to Democrats. One also continues to wonder how Ms. Askew and the supposed left-leaning members of the Standing Committee, even if they outnumber the reputed conservatives, rate all the credit for the Committee's unanimous determination that Wallace is not qualified. It seems like some fuzzy math to us.