The American Bar Association on Sunday rated Judge Amy Coney Barrett as "well qualified," its highest rating, an important endorsement ahead of what are expected to be contentious confirmation hearings on her Supreme Court appointment this week.
Democrats have suggested in the wake of Barrett's nomination that she holds extreme views on abortion and that the future of the Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy if she is confirmed. The ABA's rating will be cited by Republicans to blunt those criticisms, even though the group's importance is regularly dismissed by Republicans when it has criticized some judicial nominees.
"A substantial majority of the Standing Committee determined that Judge Barrett is 'Well Qualified,' and a minority is of the opinion that she is 'Qualified' to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States," Randall D. Noel, chair of the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, wrote in a letter.
The ABA focuses on a person's "professional qualifications" and does not take into consideration their "philosophy, political affiliation or ideology" when making its determinations.
"While these criteria -- integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament -- are the basis for the Standing Committee's evaluation of all federal court nominees, the Committee's investigations of Supreme Court nominees are particularly rigorous," according to the group. "The significance, range, and complexity of the issues considered by the Supreme Court demand that nominees appointed to the Court be of exceptional ability."
A federal appellate judge and Notre Dame law professor, Barrett has nodded to her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, as influencing her legal career and in her opening remarks on Monday is expected to say his "reasoning" shaped her.
The ABA's ratings have occasionally been the subject of criticism by some Republicans when it has found nominees to be unqualified, particularly amid the party's push during Trump's presidency to remake the federal judiciary.
In 2018, the group rated Jonathan Kobes as "not qualified" to serve as a US Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit, in which then-Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican from Iowa, criticized the ABA's methodology and accused it of "politicizing" the nomination. Kobes was ultimately confirmed.
Republicans similarly disregarded the group's "not qualified" rating against Lawrence J.C. VanDyke, a then-federal appeals court nominee, who broke down in tears during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in response to the group's findings. He, too, was eventually confirmed.