The American Bar Association recently generated a lot of press when it declared its opposition to the death penalty. The media coverage suggested that this was an extraordinary decision for the nation's largest lawyers' organization to take. But as many critics point out-and the mainstream media did not-it is not unusual for the ABA to take decidedly left-of-center positions on controversial issues. They include:
- Tort reform. The ABA opposes virtually all legal reform measures–loser pays, caps on product liability damages, eliminating joint-and-several liability.
- Affirmative action. It endorses "legal remedies and voluntary actions that take into account…race, national origin, or gender."
- Gun control. The ABA supported the "assault weapons" ban and generally endorses gun control measures.
- Abortion. The group lobbied the last Congress in favor of continued federal funding of abortions.
- Universal health care. It supports "universal coverage for all through a common public or public/private mechanism through which all contribute."
The ABA also backs the Family and Medical Leave Act, funding the National Endowment for the Arts, and increasing spending on child care. The organization also advises the U.S. Senate in the judicial selection process. Critics charge that the ABA is strongly biased against conservative nominees, most famously when several members of the selection committee declared Judge Robert Bork "not qualified" for the Supreme Court, despite his standing as an eminent legal scholar.
That special role may be coming to an end. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch is a long-time ABA critic. Though he has taken no official position, a recent Judiciary Committee press release stated, "The ABA should henceforth play no official, quasi-constitutional role in the Senate's confirmation process."