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American Bar Association Panel Unanimously Gives Kennedy Highest Rating

December 8, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ An American Bar Association panel decided unanimously Tuesday to give Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy its highest rating a week before the Senate opens hearings on him.

The ABA panel’s rating of ″well qualified″ was a boost for Kennedy, a federal appeals court judge who is President Reagan’s third choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to start confirmation hearings next Monday.

The 15-member ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Kennedy, 51, of Sacramento, Calif., well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said. The other possible ratings were ″not opposed″ and ″not qualified.″

No senator has announced opposition to Kennedy. All but one of the women’s, civil rights and civil liberties organizations that campaigned against defeated Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork have remained neutral so far.

Only the National Organization for Women, which opposed Bork, and the anti- abortion American Life League have announced opposition to Kennedy, a 12- year veteran of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who has written more than 400 opinions.

The lack of coordinated opposition and the favorable ABA rating indicate Senate hearings will open in a calm political atmosphere, a contrast to the strong opposition to Bork, an appeals judge who was Reagan’s first nominee for the vacancy which occurred in June with the retirement of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. The court has been meeting with eight justices since Oct. 5.

A campaign to defeat Bork was well under way a week before his hearing began in September, and word had leaked out that the ABA panel was seriously divided. Ten panel members rated Bork well qualified, four said he was not qualified and one member was not opposed.

The opposition intensified during and after the hearings, leading to Bork’s defeat by the Senate on Oct. 23 by 58-42.

On Oct. 29, Reagan announced his plan to nominate U.S. Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg for the court. But Ginsburg withdrew from consideration on Nov. 7 after admitting he smoked marijuana in the past. The ABA committee had not completed its review of Ginsburg before he bowed out. Kennedy was nominated Nov. 11.

The well-qualified rating is reserved ″for those who meet the highest standards of professional competence, judicial temperament and integrity. The persons in this category must be among the best available for appointment to the Supreme Court,″ according to the ABA standards.

Eastland said: ″This is welcome news, and Judge Kennedy obviously merited this rating. In our judgment it’s another reason that he should be swiftly confirmed.″

Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., has said the committee would not vote until late January, after the Senate returns from its year-end recess.

According to its rules, the ABA panel interviews federal and state court judges, lawyers, law school professors and deans, officials of professional organizations and spokesmen representing women, minorities, the indigent, ethnics and other interest groups.

In addition, separate teams of law school professors and practicing lawyers review the legal writings of the nominee.

Kennedy has given few clues to his position on crucial constitutional questions such as the right of privacy, freedom of speech, affirmative action and sex discrimination. He did, however, write the opinion that opposed a Washington state plan to pay female government workers the same as men holding comparable jobs.

The next justice could tip the balance in cases involving such issues as abortion, affirmative action and separation of church and state.

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