WASHINGTON (CNN) - Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has been given the American Bar Association's highest rating for "professional qualification," a political boost less than a week before her confirmation hearings begin in the Senate.
An ABA committee that reviewed her record concluded unanimously Tuesday that she is "well qualified" to sit on the high court. The nation's largest association of attorneys has been evaluating nominees to the federal bench for five decades.
Sotomayor was last evaluated by the ABA in 1998 when she was nominated for the appeals court seat she now occupies. She was also rated "well-qualified," but the vote then was not unanimous.
Her confirmation hearings for the high court begin Monday, and Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, applauded the ABA evaluation, saying it "should eliminate the doubts of naysayers who have questioned Judge Sotomayor's disposition on the bench."
The 55-year-old judge from the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit would replace the retired Justice David Souter.
The peer-review process by the ABA focuses only on a nominee's "professional qualifications and does not consider a nominee's philosophy or ideology," according to the group. It says their "impartial evaluations" focus on integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.
Past administration have quietly worked with the ABA to provide the identity of proposed nominees before they were publicly nominated. No other group has such advance access, but the ABA's role is unofficial.
The Bush administration had refused to consider or accept the ABA evaluations, saying the organization had given lower ratings for some conservative nominees, and that the ABA had publicly-held liberal positions on social and political matters. That complaint had been echoed by Reagan and Bush 41 officials.
The Standing Committee continued to rate Bush judicial nominees, but only after the president had made the choices public.
Justice Clarence Thomas was given a "qualified" rating - the middle of three standards - when he was being considered for the Supreme Court in 1991. "Not qualified" is the lowest rating possible.
George W. Bush's nominees - Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito - received unanimous "well-qualfied" ratings. Harriet Mires withdrew her 2005 high court nomination before the ABA could release its evaluation.
A letter from Obama's White House Counsel Greg Craig to Leahy Tuesday indicated the ABA had again gained its prior privileged access to the administration's nominee for evaluation.