Nominee Rated 'Unqualified' By ABA Panel

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

A committee of the nation's largest lawyers organization yesterday unanimously rated President Bush's choice for a federal appeals court "unqualified," the first such vote in almost a quarter-century.

The 15-member Judicial Screening Committee of the American Bar Association found Michael B. Wallace, 55, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), unfit to sit on the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The ABA committee reported its rating in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and ranking minority member Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). The letter did not explain the reasons for the rating, but traditionally the ABA testifies before the committee when it finds a nominee unqualified.

Since his nomination Feb. 8, Wallace has drawn criticism from liberal interest groups, which say he is not supportive enough of civil rights and legal services for the poor.

"The president should immediately withdraw his nomination," Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal organization People for the American Way, said yesterday.

But the White House stood by Wallace. "We disagree with the ABA and reject their rating," said Bush spokeswoman Erin E. Healy. "Mike Wallace is a well-respected attorney with extensive experience in constitutional and commercial law."

Wallace practices law in Jackson, Miss. He served as a Supreme Court law clerk to William H. Rehnquist when Rehnquist was an associate justice and as a board member of the Legal Services Corp. For Lott, Wallace worked on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

If confirmed, Wallace would fill the seat vacated by Charles W. Pickering Sr., another Mississippian close to Lott, who stepped down from the 5th Circuit in late 2004.

The last nominee to be rejected unanimously by the ABA was Sherman Unger, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1982. His nomination was later withdrawn.

Separately, Bush nominated Neil Gorsuch of the Justice Department to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company