ABA, White House at Odds over Judicial Nominee
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
A screening committee of the American Bar Association has unanimously rated him not qualified for the position. NPR's Ari Shapiro has more.
ARI SHAPIRO: Kim Askew led the ABA's investigation of Wallace. She interviewed nearly 70 people, including the nominee himself to assess his suitability for the job.
KIM ASKEW: Judges and lawyers who had interacted with Mr. Wallace concluded that he lacked the freedom from bias necessary to be an effective judge. They believed he would not follow the law or would ignore it if he disagreed with it.
SHAPIRO: Wallace disputed that conclusion and the process the ABA used to reach it.
MICHAEL WALLACE: They may very well be reporting the opinions they heard. I don't think those opinions are well founded. And the difficulty is that I never was told the supposed facts behind those opinions, so there was no opportunity to explore them and to rebut them.
SHAPIRO: When he worked for then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, he helped argue that Bob Jones University should receive tax-exempt status even though the school discriminated on the basis of race. Senator Lott attended yesterday's hearing and defended Wallace's action.
TRENT LOTT: He has been criticized sometimes for things he did while working for me. I was the person in the leadership position. He worked under the direction of the person he was serving, so I feel particularly aggrieved when I see those sort of unfair allegations.
SHAPIRO: The ABA knows the difference between advocacy and personal bias, said Kim Askew.
ASKEW: We fully understand that lawyers can zealously represent their clients. And the lawyers and judges that I interviewed drew a very clear distinction between the zealous representation of a client and taking positions which they believed went beyond the point of zealous representation.
SHAPIRO: The White House has continued to stand behind its nominee. The NAACP and other civil rights groups oppose him. Carroll Rhodes represents the NAACP's Mississippi chapter.
CARROLL RHODES: We believe that Mr. Wallace is insensitive to poor Americans. We're talking about poor people in America primarily within the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SHAPIRO: Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson disagreed. As an African-American and a Democrat who's worked with Wallace at a law firm for the last 15 years, he said he has nothing but praise for the nominee.
REUBEN ANDERSON: I don't agree with a whole lot that our president does, but this is one smart thing that he has done and that is recommending Mike Wallace to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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