Confirmation of justices

Confirmation of Justices

The Process

  • Nomination to the Supreme Court is the prerogative of the President. A vacancy can arise due to any Justice’s retirement, death or impeachment.
  • Nominated individuals are usually, but not always, already judges of lower federal courts. Lawyers, professors, and politicians are also potential nominees.
  • Once a nomination is made, the candidate then undergoes a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Senators question the nominee, examining their past career, judicial philosophy and potential conflicts of interest.
  • After the hearings, the Judiciary Committee votes on whether to put the candidate before the full Senate. It can vote in favour, against or give no recommendation.

Role of the Senate

  • The full Senate then debates and finally votes on the candidate. A simple majority is required, out of 100 senators, for confirmation.
  • However, due to the filibuster rule in the Senate, technically 60 votes could be required to close debate. This was overridden through the “nuclear option” in 2017 for Supreme Court nominations under the Trump administration.
  • The Senate’s role is to provide “advice and consent” per the Constitution on presidential nominations, representing a key check on the President’s power.

Controversial Nominations

  • Some nominations have been contentious, leading to failed confirmations. For example, Robert Bork in 1987 was rejected due to ideological disagreement between him and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
  • In 1991, Clarence Thomas faced accusations of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings but was eventually confirmed.
  • More recently, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh under President Trump in 2018 sparked controversy due to sexual assault allegations.


  • Once confirmed, justices serve for life and make decisions that impact American law and society for decades, or even centuries – their influence often outlasts the presidents who appointed them. Their decisions shape legal precedents on issues like abortion, gun rights, or civil liberties.
  • As a result, nominations and confirmations of Supreme Court justices are often seen as one of the most significant actions a president can take.

Supreme Court Ideology

  • The ideology of the Supreme Court can be significantly swayed by new appointments. For instance, President Trump’s appointments have tilted the Court to a more conservative leaning with a 6-3 conservative majority.
  • Justices, once appointed, are often expected to adhere to the ideological line of the President who appointed them, but there have been cases of “judicial drift”, where justices shift ideologically over time.