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Friday, December 21, 2012

Supreme Court Nominations, 1789 to the Present: Actions by the Senate, the Judiciary Committee, and the President

Denis Steven Rutkus
Specialist on the Federal Judiciary

Maureen Bearden
Information Research Specialist

The process of appointing Supreme Court Justices has undergone changes over two centuries, but its most basic feature, the sharing of power between the President and Senate, has remained unchanged. To receive a lifetime appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate. A key role also has come to be played midway in the process by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Table 1
of this report lists and describes actions taken by the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the President on all Supreme Court nominations, from 1789 to the present. The table provides the name of each person nominated to the Court and the name of the President making the nomination. It also tracks the dates of formal actions taken, and time elapsing between these actions, by the Senate or Senate Judiciary Committee on each nomination, starting with the date that the Senate received the nomination from the President.

Of the 43 Presidents in the history of the United States, 40 made nominations to the Supreme Court. They made a total of 160 nominations, of which 124 (more than three-quarters) received Senate confirmation. Also, on 12 occasions in the nation’s history, Presidents have made temporary recess appointments to the Court, without submitting nominations to the Senate. Of the 36 unsuccessful Supreme Court nominations, 11 were rejected in Senate roll-call votes, 11 were withdrawn by the President, and 14 lapsed at the end of a session of Congress. Six individuals whose initial nominations were not confirmed were later re-nominated and confirmed to positions on the Court.

A total of 117 of the 160 nominations were referred to a Senate committee, with 116 of them to the Judiciary Committee (including almost all nominations since 1868). Prior to 1916, the Judiciary Committee considered these nominations behind closed doors. Since 1946, however, almost all nominees have received public confirmation hearings. Most recent hearings have lasted four or more days.

In recent decades, from the late 1960s to the present, the Judiciary Committee has tended to take more time before starting hearings and casting final votes on Supreme Court nominations than it did previously. The median time taken for the full Senate to take final action on Supreme Court nominations also has increased in recent decades, dwarfing the median time taken on earlier nominations.

For another perspective on Supreme Court nominations, which reviews, among other things, when Presidents announced their intentions to nominate someone (as distinct from when they formally transmitted Supreme Court nominations to the Senate), see CRS Report RL33118, Speed of Presidential and Senate Actions on Supreme Court Nominations, 1900-2010, by R. Sam Garrett and Denis Steven Rutkus. For an examination of floor procedures used by the full Senate in considering Supreme Court nominations, see CRS Report RL33247, Supreme Court Nominations: Senate Floor Procedure and Practice, 1789-2010, by Richard S. Beth and Betsy Palmer.

Date of Report: December 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL32225
Price: $29.95

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