WASHINGTON — An American Bar Assn. panel today voted unanimously to give Anthony M. Kennedy its highest rating for a Supreme Court nominee, the Justice Department said.
The 15-member Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated the federal appellate judge from Sacramento, Calif., "well qualified" for the job.
That 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.
Other possible ratings were "not opposed" and "not qualified."
Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland, who announced the vote, 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."
The last high court nominee rated by the panel was Robert H. Bork, who was rejected by the Senate 58 to 42. Ten panel members voted Bork well qualified, four said he was not qualified and one member was not opposed.
The nominee who succeeded Bork, Douglas H. Ginsburg, withdrew from consideration before the ABA panel voted on a rating. Ginsburg acted after admitting he smoked marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s.
Kennedy, President Reagan's third attempt to fill a seat that became vacant in June, has served for a dozen years on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has written more than 400 opinions.
Hearings Begin Dec. 14
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings Dec. 14 on the nomination but will 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, teams of law school professors and practicing lawyers review the legal writings of the nominee.