ABA Rates Another Trump 8th Circuit Nominee ‘Not Qualified’ (1)

By Patrick L. Gregory

Jonathan Kobes isn’t qualified to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, according to the American Bar Association.

The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary gave Kobes a “Not Qualified” rating, the sixth such rating for President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees.

Kobes has “neither the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required” of a federal appellate judge, a letter from committee chair Paul Moxley said.

The ABA’s ratings are advisory, and have been used for decades as a non-partisan rating system for judicial nominees. The ratings have come under fire from conservatives for being partisan, but Republicans called two ABA officials to testify at U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing about his “well-qualified” rating, the highest rating available.

Kobes is the second of Trump’s nominees to the Eighth Circuit to receive such a “Not Qualified” rating. The first, Steve Grasz, was confirmed by a 50-48 vote.

Four of Trump’s district court nominees have also been rated “Not Qualified.” Two of them have been confirmed, one was withdrawn, and one is pending.

None of President Barack Obama’s nominees received a “Not Qualified” rating, but his administration worked with the ABA to pre-screen candidates before announcing their nominations. The Trump Administration opted out of this pre-screen process, as did President George W. Bush’s administration, which also saw some nominees rated “Not Qualified.”

Kobes, who is currently general counsel to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearing for comments about immigration, which were attributed to him by a Dutch newspaper.

The paper quoted Kobes as saying that Republicans oppose immigration because it waters down the culture.

Kobes testified that he believed such a perspective on immigration was unfair, and that it didn’t reflect his personal position.

Not So Fast

Moxley suggested that Kobes’ confirmation hearing should have been placed on hold after the ABA appointed a second evaluator to examine the nominee, indicating that a potential not qualified rating was forthcoming.

The committee members were disappointed “that we were not able to coordinate the timing of Mr. Kobes’ hearing to assure a smoother process,” Moxley said. “I respectfully request that in the future your committee wait to hold a hearing on a nominee for whom we have indicated that a second evaluator has been appointed.”

That would allow the ABA committee’s members to “testify to explain the basis of the rating at the nominee’s hearing,” Moxley said.

The Judiciary Committee similarly held hearings for district court nominees Patrick Wyrick and John O’Connor before the ABA issued its rating for those nominees.

Wyrick ultimately received a rating of “Qualified,” which is lower than the highest possible rating of “Well Qualified.” He’s awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

O’Connor received a “Not Qualified” rating. His nomination is still in committee.

CIA, Ethanol

Rounds, Kobes’ supervisor, praised the nominee’s qualifications in June.

Kobes’ "wide range of experiences in both the public and private sectors provides a strong platform for this role as a judge,” Rounds said.

Kobes graduated from Harvard Law School in 2000. He went on to clerk for the judge whom he’d replace if confirmed, Judge Roger Wollman.

He later served as an assistant U.S. attorney and worked in the Central Intelligence Agency’s litigation division.

As special litigation counsel for the Growth Energy trade organization, Kobes led the “ethanol industry’s effort to obtain regulatory approval for 15% ethanol fuel,” according to his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.