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A Senate committee handed President Trump an important victory today. Lawmakers advanced five nominees for lifetime appointments as federal judges. That includes a candidate who is described as unqualified by the American Bar Association. NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: People who closely follow judicial nominations have noticed a pattern this year. Since 1989, they say, the American Bar Association has ranked just four people unanimously unqualified to serve as federal judges. Two of those ratings have come during the first year of the Trump administration.
KRISTINE LUCIUS: I think it is fair to say it is unprecedented in 11 months to have this many judicial nominees rated not qualified.
JOHNSON: That's Kristine Lucius. She works on policy issues for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Lucius spent 14 years on Capitol Hill where she helped vet nominees for a Senate Democrat. She describes the ABA rankings as an important part of the process for evaluating candidates for the bench. But the Trump administration has adopted a different approach. The White House is nominating people even before the ABA finishes its ratings. Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network explains.
CARRIE SEVERINO: I'm very concerned about the ABA's procedure. It's not a neutral and nonpartisan process as it stands.
JOHNSON: At the White House, spokesman Kelly Love says President Trump has delivered on his promise to nominate highly qualified judges. Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, takes issue with that claim.
RICHARD DURBIN: Here's what I don't understand. Why is it that more and more of these judges coming from the Trump administration have no experience?
JOHNSON: At the Judiciary Committee today, Democrats focused on one judge candidate in particular, Brett Talley. He's a Harvard Law School grad in line for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench in Alabama. This week, the ABA rated him unanimously unqualified based on his lack of trial experience. That worries California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It seemed to me that when you get to the bench of a federal trial court, it would be helpful to have tried a case before. Instead, Mr. Talley has made a career of blogging and political commentary. And the area where he has devoted most of his energy is guns.
JOHNSON: A month after a gunman killed 20 children in Newtown, Conn., Talley said activists were exploiting the tragedy to prepare, quote, "the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime." He pledged allegiance to the National Rifle Association. At his confirmation hearing last month, Talley said there was no reason he couldn't be fair in hearing a case about weapons.
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BRETT TALLEY: Senator, I wrote this blog post five years ago. I can't say sitting here today if I were going to write those blog posts, I would have said the same thing. I certainly don't want to engage in any political debate today.
JOHNSON: The Judiciary Committee has advanced Talley's nomination by a party line vote of 11 to 9. Chairman Chuck Grassley noted the ABA says it didn't have any issues with his integrity or temperament. While Talley waits for a vote by the full Senate, he'll report to work at his day job. He's currently serving as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Justice Department. That unit helps pick federal judges. And Talley estimates he's interviewed about 50 candidates so far this year. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF COLTER WALL SONG, "SLEEPING ON THE BLACKTOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.