"The ABA's own criteria for a judicial nominee call for, among other things, at least 12 years' experience in the practice of law, and they mean actual practice of law."
Jon Kyl, Monday in a hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan.
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The ruling: HALF TRUE
At confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee maintained that Kagan, the current solicitor general, a former dean of Harvard Law School and a member of the Clinton White House staff, may lack the necessary experience as a judge or a practicing attorney.
"Ms. Kagan has never served on any bench," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "Indeed, except for a brief two-year stint in private practice and one year as solicitor general, Ms. Kagan's entire career has been divided between academia and policy positions in the Clinton administration. Given this lack of experience practicing law, I was surprised that the American Bar Association awarded her a well-qualified rating, since the ABA's own criteria for a judicial nominee call for, among other things, at least 12 years' experience in the practice of law, and they mean actual practice of law."
We decided to check the ABA's guidelines for ourselves.
Kagan has some hands-on experience: judicial clerk for an appeals court judge and Supreme Court justice; three summers at law firms in New York City; two years practicing commercial, First Amendment and white-collar criminal law; associate counsel to President Bill Clinton; and most recently, solicitor general, arguing Supreme Court cases.
Total time spent in pure practice of law: five or six years.
What of Kyl's claim about the ABA endorsement? An ABA pamphlet notes that, "a prospective nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years' experience in the practice of law." But Kyl leaves out an important qualifier: "Distinguished accomplishments in the field of law or experience that is similar to in-court trial work" may compensate for lack of substantial courtroom experience.
Kyl is correct that the ABA does "call for" 12 years of practical law experience. But "distinguished accomplishments in the field of law" also count. So we rate his statement Half True.
This ruling has been edited for print.