updated 1/4/2006 11:51:33 AM ET 2006-01-04T16:51:33

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito received a unanimous “well-qualified” rating from the American Bar Association on Wednesday, giving his nomination momentum as the Senate prepares for confirmation hearings next week.

The rating came after a vote of an ABA committee and will be delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will launch Alito’s confirmation hearings on Monday. Alito will face almost an hour of questioning from each of the 18 senators on the committee.

The ABA rating — the highest — is the same that Alito received back in 1990, when President Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, nominated him to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

There was one recusal from the voting committee, the ABA said. The group will testify next week during Alito’s confirmation hearing about how it arrived at the rating.

For more than 50 years, the ABA has evaluated the credentials of nominees for the federal bench, though the nation’s largest lawyers’ group has no official standing in the process. Supreme Court nominees get the most scrutiny.

Chief Justice John Roberts also got a “well-qualified” rating from the ABA earlier this year before his nomination hearing, and was confirmed by the Senate on a 78-22 vote. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination before the ABA released its rating of her candidacy.

The ABA ratings are well-qualified, qualified and not qualified.

“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 nations highest court,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

The ABA’s highest rating won’t stop some 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 Wednesday. “And some Senate Democrats, including some who have previously described the ABA’s evaluation as the gold standard, will now dismiss the rating as meaningless.”

The ABA’s relationship with the Bush administration and conservatives has been rocky. In 2001, Bush ended the ABA’s preferential role in vetting prospective judicial nominees and decided the administration would not give the group advance word on names under consideration.

Conservatives had been bitter ever since the ABA’s mixed review of the qualifications of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the Reagan administration.

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