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Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor earned a "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association on Tuesday as she prepared for Senate hearings next week.

The ABA committee that reviewed her qualifications came out with that unanimous rating of the federal appeals court judge and released it in a letter to White House lawyer Greg Craig.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin hearings Monday on President Barack Obama's choice to replace retired Justice David Souter.

Sotomayor has been rated twice before by the ABA — as a trial judge and appellate judge.

As a U.S. District Court nominee, she was deemed "qualified" by a substantial majority of the committee and "well qualified" by a minority. The last time the ABA reviewed Sotomayor's qualifications — when she was up for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a majority rated her "well qualified," but that was not unanimous.

For more than 50 years, the ABA has evaluated the credentials of nominees for the federal bench, though the nation's largest lawyers' group has no official role in the process. Supreme Court nominees get the most scrutiny.

"The American Bar Association's unanimous, well-qualified rating of Judge Sotomayor is further evidence of the outstanding experience she will bring to the Supreme Court," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The ABA's rating — an evaluation of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament — should eliminate the doubts of naysayers who have questioned Judge Sotomayor's disposition on the bench."

ABA ratings are "well-qualified," "qualified" and "not qualified." The committee's members interview hundreds of colleagues — confidentially — and scours pages of a nominee's writings before coming up with the rating.

"The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has completed its evaluation of the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor and is of the unanimous opinion that Judge Sotomayor is 'well-qualified' for appointment as an associate justice to the United States Supreme Court," said Kim J. Askew, the committee's head.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also got unanimous a "well-qualified" rating from the ABA before their Senate hearings.

White House lawyer Harriet Miers, nominated to the high court by President George W. Bush, withdrew before the ABA released its rating.

The ABA had a rocky relationship with Bush. In 2001, Bush ended the ABA's preferential role in checking prospective judicial nominees and decided the administration would not give the group advance word on names under consideration.

Conservatives had been bitter ever since the ABA's mixed review of the qualifications of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the Reagan administration.

In March, the Obama administration asked the ABA to resume its historical role in evaluating judicial nominees.


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