160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON (AP) – Judge Samuel Alito on Wednesday gained the American Bar Association’s highest rating for a Supreme Court nominee, giving him a boost before next week’s Senate confirmation hearings. Interest groups now will try to help or hinder Alito’s chances by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television, radio and Internet ads nationwide and in the states of key senators, before and during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings. This is the second time the ABA, the nation’s largest lawyers’ organization, has rated Alito, who was nominated by President Bush on Oct. 31 as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The “well qualified” rating – the highest – is the same one that Alito earned in 1990 when President Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, nominated him to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Embracing the latest rating, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “Leading Senate Democrats have said in the past that the ABA is the – quote – gold standard for evaluating judicial nominees.” Democrats, the Senate’s minority party, contend Alito is too conservative and could undermine abortion rights. They are expected to be Alito’s toughest questioners at the hearings that begin Monday. “The ABA ratings do not take into account whether a judge’s judicial philosophy and views are in or out of the broad mainstream,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “That is the $64,000 question with Judge Alito and we will have to wait for the hearings to get a better answer.” For more than 50 years, the ABA has evaluated judicial nominees’ credentials, though the organization has no official standing in the process. In 2001, Bush ended the ABA’s preferential role in vetting prospective nominees and refused to give the group advance word on names under consideration. The ABA’s Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary came up with the rating after confidential interviews with hundreds of Alito’s colleagues and a review of his writings. Their options were well-qualified, qualified and not qualified. “The committee is of the unanimous opinion that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. is well-qualified,” said Stephen L. Tober, chairman of the ABA panel. One member of the committee abstained from voting, Tober said. He did not explain why that person did not vote. The group will testify during Alito’s confirmation hearing about how it arrived at the rating. The rating will not stop some people from attacking Alito, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Unfortunately, the hard left groups decided long before these ratings were announced that they would oppose his nomination,” Cornyn said. Interest groups have spent much less on TV commercials on Alito’s nomination than they did when Bush elevated John Roberts to the high court, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Goldberg estimated that such groups spent $1.3 million during the confirmation process for Roberts, now the chief justice. About $325,000 was spent on Harriet Miers’ nomination before the Bush aide withdrew from consideration and, before this week, about $650,000 on Alito’s nomination, Goldberg said. At least two liberal groups – MoveOn.org Political Action and IndependentCourt.org – plan to take to the airwaves this week to try to build public momentum against Alito. MoveOn.org is spending $150,000 for an ad airing nationwide on CNN, and in the home states of GOP Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mike DeWine of Ohio, beginning Monday. IndependentCourt.org, a coalition of dozens of liberal interest groups, is beginning a national TV ad. The group refuses to say how much the ad buy will be, but it is expected to be more than $100,000 on cable television. The IndependentCourt.org’s campaign also will have a local component tailored to Maine, the home of GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Arkansas, whose senators are Democrats Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln. The conservative group Progress for America has spent more than other organizations, running national TV ads from the first day of the Alito nomination. The group has said it would spend as much $18 million to push Bush’s judicial nominees. It is spending $500,000 on a TV ad this week on CNN and the Fox News Channel, and during “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend. The ad will be seen, too, on cable stations in Louisiana, North Dakota and Maine, focusing on Maine’s GOP senators, Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Senate Republicans want a confirmation vote in the full Senate Jan. 20.