Recent studies have questioned whether American Bar Association (ABA) ratings of judicial nominees are skewed against minority candidates. However, a strong critique of these findings is that they are being driven by appointments made at a time of greater inequality in terms of education and preparedness. In this paper, I address these questions. First, I provide evidence that the educational and professional backgrounds of minority judicial nominees have indeed shifted over time, and that minority judges increasingly attend prestigious law schools and have clerkship experience. Second, however, I show that the gap in ABA ratings between minority and white candidates continues into recent years, despite this trend. My results therefore contribute to a growing literature calling into question the ongoing use of subjective ratings of judicial candidates.
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.