updated 5/10/2006 6:53:30 PM ET 2006-05-10T22:53:30

The American Bar Association rated one of President Bush's judicial nominees "not qualified" Wednesday, prompting a call from a liberal group for the president to withdraw the Mississippi lawyer's nomination.

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A panel of the nation's largest lawyers group unanimously agreed that Michael Wallace, nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, should receive its lowest rating.

Wallace, 54, was a law clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and special counsel to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi during the impeachment trial of President Clinton in 1999.

The White House immediately disagreed with the ABA and rejected its rating.

"Mike Wallace is a well-respected attorney with extensive experience in constitutional and commercial law," said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy. "He has had an outstanding record and will make an excellent addition to the bench."

Wallace has never served as a judge. If confirmed to the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, he would handle appeals from federal courts in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.

"Wallace is the first appeals court nominee in 25 years to receive a unanimous 'not qualified' rating from the ABA. The president should immediately withdraw his nomination," said Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group People For the American Way.

An unanimous "not qualified" rating is rare from the ABA, which has graded judicial candidates since the 1950s on three factors: integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.

Poor ratings on judicial nominees were avoided by previous presidents who submitted the names of prospective judicial candidates to the ABA for screening before nominations were made. President Bush abandoned the practice when he took office in 2001.

ABA leaders have been asked to testify during Senate confirmation hearings in the past when they find that a judge nominee is not qualified.

Wallace, a long-time member of the influential Federalist Society, is a graduate of Harvard University. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia.

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