A Bush nominee gets downgraded

The ABA withdraws its "well qualified" rating for a judicial nominee amid questions about conflicts of interest.

Published March 2, 2006 8:00PM (EST)

Whenever it suits their purposes, politicians from both sides of the aisle proclaim the American Bar Association's ratings the "gold standard" for judging judicial nominees. What do you do when the sheen rubs off? We're about to find out.

The ABA has just revoked its "well qualified" rating for James Payne, a U.S. District Court judge George W. Bush has nominated to a seat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The downgrade for Payne -- the ABA calls him "qualified" now, with a minority of its panelists declaring him "not qualified" -- comes after Salon ran a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting's Will Evans on what appear to be conflicts of interest that have marred Payne's tenure as a federal judge. Evans' reporting showed that Payne has issued more than 100 orders in cases involving companies in which he owned stock.

The ABA's Stephen Tober tells Evans that he can't get into the details of Payne's ratings drop, but he says it has something to do with "whether or not he had any conflict issues." And while Tober says that it's not unprecedented for the ABA to reconsider its ranking of judicial nominees, he says it's not exactly "a common occurrence," either.

Payne hasn't talked about the conflict-of-interest allegations, and he isn't talking about them now.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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