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How Judicial Qualification Ratings May Disadvantage Minority and Female Candidates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Maya Sen*
University of Rochester
Contact the author at


This article uses two newly collected data sets 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). Using these data, I show that minority and female nominees are more likely than whites and males to receive lower ratings, even after controlling for education, experience, and partisanship via matching. These discrepancies are important for two reasons. First, as I show, receiving poor ABA ratings is correlated with confirmation failure. Second, I demonstrate that ABA ratings do not actually predict whether judges will be “better” in terms of reversal rates. Taken together, these findings complicate the ABA’s influential role in judicial nominations, both in terms of setting up possible barriers against minority and female candidates and also in terms of its actual utility in predicting judicial performance.

Research Article
© 2014 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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I am grateful to Deborah Beim, Matthew Blackwell, Kristin Doughty, Lauren Edelman, David Gelman, Adam Glynn, Jennifer Hochschild, Gary King, Richard Niemi, Kevin Quinn, Susan Welch, Christopher Zorn, and several anonymous referees. Thanks to Catalina Santos, Michelle Pearse, and the Federal Judicial Center for additional research assistance. This research was supported by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies.


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