New in The Atlantic: “How the American Bar Association Can Fix Its Mess”

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The Atlantic has published an essay based on a post I wrote here last week about Lawrence VanDyke’s nomination to the Ninth Circuit. Here is the conclusion:

What happens next? Nominees, of course, could refuse to meet with the ABA. Though that option includes a risk: The most damning allegations will not be refuted. There is a far more productive approach. These interrogations should be treated as hostile depositions. A court reporter and videographer should be present, as well as privately retained counsel to push back on unfounded accusations. In the event that the nominee is rated as qualified, there would be no need to release the transcript. Going forward, when a nominee is rated as unqualified, the transcript should be released, and the recording should be posted publicly online. There is no reason to rely on disputed accounts of the interview.

As originally designed, the confidential nature of this process made some sense. The interviews were not recorded to ensure that members of the bar could candidly critique a potential jurist, and to prevent the nominee from facing public embarrassment if the report was released. But the VanDyke letter turns that practice on its head. He was sandbagged at the last minute, and he was not given a chance to address any of the accusations it contained. This wound was entirely self-inflicted. If the ABA wanted to rate a nominee like VanDyke as unqualified, the organization should have followed its own rules to a T. Instead, it ran a slipshod process, led by a person whose objectivity was open to question.

This process should no longer be a black box. If reports faithfully reflect the interviews, faith can be restored in the ABA. If the process remains shrouded in secrecy, Americans can safely discount future findings.

To date, the ABA has continued to stand by the VanDyke report. That decision should be reconsidered. The organization should assign a second investigator, whose objectivity cannot be question, to review the recommendation. That move would restore some faith in the process.

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