How Judicial Qualification Ratings May Disadvantage Minority and Female Candidates

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This paper uses two new datasets to investigate the reliance by political actors on the external vetting of judicial candidates, in particular vetting conducted by the nation's largest legal organization, the American Bar Association (ABA). First, I demonstrate that poorly rated lower-court nominees are significantly more likely to have their nominations fail before the Senate. However, I also show that minority and female nominees are more likely than whites and males to receive these lower ratings, even after controlling for education, experience, and partisanship via matching. Furthermore, by presenting results showing that ABA ratings are unrelated to judges' ultimate reversal rates, I show that these scores are a poor predictor of how nominees perform once confirmed. The findings in this paper complicate the ABA's influential role in judicial nominations, both in terms of its utility in predicting judicial "performance" and also in terms of possible implicit biases against minority candidates, and suggest that political actors rely on these ratings perhaps for reasons unrelated to the courts.


Select Media Coverage: National Public RadioMSNBC, New York Times Op-Ed (with response letter and article)