WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito got a good grade Wednesday from a respected professional association, but the thumbs-up did little to appease Alito's critics, who have stepped up their campaign against him ahead of the judge's confirmation hearing.
Alito was designated unanimously as "well-qualified" by the American Bar Association. It is a brief but important assessment, said Georgetown law professor Paul Rothstein.
"They look at integrity, competence, judicial temperament. They examine all of his writings and all of his opinions," Rothstein told FOX News.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Brian Wilson.
The ABA gives out three possible grades for judicial nominees — well-qualified, qualified and not qualified. "Well-qualified" means that the nominee is really at the top of their opinion.
In fact, Alito got a better rating than the person he's been chosen to replace. In 1981, the ABA rated Sandra Day O'Connor "well-qualified" when it came to judicial temperament and integrity, but only "qualified" in the category of professional competence.
The White House appeared pleased with the grade.
"Leading Senate Democrats have said in the past that the ABA rating is the 'gold standard' for evaluating judicial nominees," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also expressed his satisfaction, though Senate Republicans said years ago that they wouldn't consider ABA rankings when evaluating judicial nominees.
"Judge Alito is right on track to become Justice Alito, and today's announcement of the ABA rating demonstrates what an overwhelming majority of Americans already believe that Judge Sam Alito is unquestionably well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court," Frist said in a statement.
Conversely, Democrats who had previously relied on ABA grades, suggested that the well-qualified ranking doesn't mean so much anymore.
"The ABA ratings do not take into account whether a judge's judicial philosophy and views are in or out of the broad mainstream. That is the $64,000 question with Judge Alito, and we will have to wait for the hearings to get a better answer," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will begin the confirmation hearing on Monday.
As the ABA was delivering its decision, liberal interest groups aligned against Alito began their campaigns in earnest — holding briefings for reporters in Washington, where much time was spent attacking the nominee's record.
"It reveals that he has pursued a very consistent agenda that favors government intrusion into our personal lives and sides with powerful interests over ordinary Americans," said Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice.
"From sexual harrasment to equal opportunities in education to harassment in the schools to violence against women, this is a justice who would shift the balance of the court in the wrong direction," said National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy.
"Judge Alito has never had a private client, he has always been a lawyer for the government, either at the federal level or state level. He's never taken on a pro-bono case to our knowledge," said Sherrilynn Ifill, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
But Rothstein has looked at Alito's many writings and comes to the conclusion that the nominee is not out of the mainstream.
"When he has no choice because the law is clear, he clearly obeys the law. Where the law leaves him some choice, yes he goes a bit to the right, but it is never off the wall, it is never something that is not within acceptable legal parameters of legal reasoning," he said.
The back and forth over Alito will continue hard and heavy with a crescendo coming just in time for the Sunday morning talk shows. Throughout the holidays, the Alito nomination was not on most people's radar screens and so those both for and against have scheduled events designed to re-focus national attention on the the importance of the hearing. The Bush administration said again Wednesday that it wants a final vote on Alito by Jan. 20.