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Understanding the U.S. Supreme Court Nomination Process

Yesterday, the White House announced that Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer will be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Much has already been made of the coming Senate confirmation battle, with Senate republicans vowing to refuse to hold hearings or vote for any nominees in the election year. Since the late 1960s, the Judiciary Committee's consideration of a Supreme Court nominee almost always has consisted of three distinct stages-(1) a pre-hearing investigative stage, followed by (2) public hearings, and concluding with (3) a committee decision on what recommendation to make to the full Senate.

Here’s what we know from the history of Supreme Court nominations and appointments, from just a few of the many library resources devoted to the topic:

The entire nomination-and-confirmation process (from when the President first learned of a vacancy to final Senate action) has generally taken almost twice as long for nominees after 1980 than for nominees in the previous 80 years. From 1900 to 1980, the entire process took a median of 59 days; from 1981 through 2006, the process took a median of 113 days. For more information on the process, check out the CRS Report Speed of Presidential and Senate Actions on Supreme Court Nominations, 1900-2006 (2007).
   
Since the late 1960s, the Judiciary Committee's consideration of a Supreme Court nominee almost always has consisted of three distinct stages-(1) a pre-hearing  investigative  stage, followed by (2) public hearings, and concluding with (3) a committee decision on what recommendation to make to the full Senate.

A 2008 CRS report, Supreme Court Nominees Not Confirmed, found that there were 158 presidential nominations to the Court between 1789 and 2007, with 36 nominations failing to win confirmation from the Senate. Most recently, Texas attorney Harriet Miers’ 2005 nomination by President George W. Bush was withdrawn.


For a complete look at the process of Supreme Court nominees and their journey to the bench, Law Center users can spend hours paging through HeinOnline’s History of Supreme Court Nominations Library. The materials include the complete Hearings and Reports on Successful and Unsuccessful Nominations of Supreme Court Justices by the Senate Judiciary Committee (1977-present) as well as biographies, commentaries, and scholarly articles about and by nearly all nominees to the Court, beginning with John Jay. 

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