Bar association: Supreme Court nominee 'well-qualified'
Alito given a boost as he prepares for next week's hearings
From Bill Mears
Hearings on Judge Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination will begin January 9.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has been given the American Bar Association's highest rating for professional stature and integrity, an important political legal barometer, as he prepares for confirmation hearings next week.
The unanimous vote of the 15-member committee was delivered Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge. One member of the ABA's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary recused from the vote.
Alito received a similar "well-qualified" rating when he was confirmed in 1990 for the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals seat he now holds. Chief Justice John Roberts received a similar ABA rating before he was confirmed for the high court in September.
The ratings are designed to help brief lawmakers and the public by offering what the groups says is an unbiased look at a nominee's "integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament."
The ABA has been conducting such reviews for more than 50 years. The ratings have traditionally carried significant political weight with senators because the ABA is the country's largest group of lawyers.
"Judge Alito is right on track to become Justice Alito, and today's announcement of the ABA rating demonstrates what an overwhelming majority of Americans already believe, that Judge Sam Alito is unquestionably well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said in a written statement.
The Bush administration had earlier refused to work with the ABA when considering nominees, saying the group was unfairly evaluating some conservative nominees. The group was criticized by conservatives when Justice Clarence Thomas received only a "qualified" rating when he was being considered for the high court in 1991. The lowest rating is "not qualified."
The Senate Judiciary Committee also announced the 18 senators on the committee will each get an hour to question Alito, who was nominated by President Bush October 31. He would take the seat of the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Alito will give an opening statement Monday and beginning Tuesday, face two or three long days of questioning. A full Senate vote is expected later this month.
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