Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee




Supreme Court Appointment Process:
President’s Selection of a Nominee

Updated February 22, 2021
Congressional Research Service
https://crsreports.congress.gov
R44235




Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee

Summary
The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance in American
politics. Each appointment is of consequence because of the enormous judicial power the
Supreme Court exercises as the highest appel ate court in the federal judiciary. Appointments are
usual y infrequent, as a vacancy on the nine-member Court may occur only once or twice, or
never at al , during a particular President’s years in office. Under the Constitution, Justices on the
Supreme Court receive what can amount to lifetime appointments which, by constitutional
design, helps ensure the Court’s independence from the President and Congress.
The procedure for appointing a Justice is provided for by the Constitution in only a few words.
The “Appointments Clause” (Article II, Section 2, clause 2) states that the President “shal
nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shal appoint ... Judges of the
supreme Court.” The process of appointing 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 appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the
President and then confirmed by the Senate.
Political considerations typical y play an important role in Supreme Court appointments. It is
often assumed, for example, that Presidents wil be inclined to select a nominee whose political or
ideological views appear compatible with their own. The political nature of the appointment
process becomes especial y apparent when a President submits a nominee with controversial
views, there are sharp partisan or ideological differences between the President and the Senate, or
the outcome of important constitutional issues before the Court is seen to be at stake.
Additional y, over more than two centuries, a recurring theme in the Supreme Court appointment
process has been the assumed need for professional excel ence in a nominee. During recent
presidencies, nominees have at the time of nomination, most often, served as U.S. appel ate court
judges. The integrity and impartiality of an individual have also been important criteria for a
President when selecting a nominee for the Court.
The speed by which a President selects a nominee for a vacancy has varied during recent
presidencies. A President might announce his intention to nominate a particular individual within
several days of when a vacancy becomes publicly known, or a President might take multiple
weeks or months to announce a nominee. The factors affecting the speed by which a President
selects a nominee include whether a President had advance notice of a Justice’s plan to retire, as
wel as when during the calendar year a Justice announces his or her departure from the Court.
On rare occasions, Presidents also have made Court appointments without the Senate’s consent,
when the Senate was in recess. Such “recess appointments,” however, were temporary, with their
terms expiring at the end of the Senate’s next session. Recess appointments have, at times, been
considered controversial because they bypassed the Senate and its “advice and consent” role. The
last recess appointment to the Court was made in 1958 when President Eisenhower appointed
Potter Stewart as an Associate Justice (Justice Stewart was confirmed by the Senate the following
year).
Additional CRS reports provide information and analysis related to other stages of the
confirmation process for nominations to the Supreme Court. For a report related to consideration
of nominations by the Senate Judiciary Committee, see CRS Report R44236, Supreme Court
Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee
, by Barry J. McMil ion.
For a report related to Senate floor debate and consideration of nominations, see CRS Report
R44234, Supreme Court Appointment Process: Senate Debate and Confirmation Vote, by Barry J.
McMil ion.
Congressional Research Service

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Contents
Background.................................................................................................................... 1
How Supreme Court Vacancies Occur ................................................................................ 2
Death of a Sitting Justice ............................................................................................ 3
Retirement or Resignation of a Sitting Justice ................................................................ 4
Nomination of a Sitting Justice to Chief Justice Position .................................................. 4

Advice and Consent ........................................................................................................ 5
The Role of Senate Advice .......................................................................................... 5
Advice from Other Sources ......................................................................................... 7
Criteria for Selecting a Nominee........................................................................................ 8
Political Considerations .............................................................................................. 8
Professional Qualifications.......................................................................................... 9
Integrity and Impartiality .......................................................................................... 13
Other Factors .......................................................................................................... 13

Background Investigations ............................................................................................. 14
Speed by Which a President Selects a Nominee ................................................................. 16
Vacancies That Have Had Multiple Nominations .......................................................... 19
The Powel Vacancy ........................................................................................... 19
The O’Connor Vacancy ....................................................................................... 19
The Scalia Vacancy............................................................................................. 20
Factors Affecting the Speed by Which a Nominee Is Selected......................................... 20
Advance Notice of Vacancy ................................................................................. 20
Strong Preference of President.............................................................................. 20
Sense of Urgency ............................................................................................... 21
When Vacancy Occurs ........................................................................................ 21

Potential Drawbacks of Quickly Selecting a Nominee ................................................... 23
Recess Appointments to the Court ................................................................................... 24
Senate Resolution 334, 86th Congress ......................................................................... 25

Figures
Figure 1. Type of Professional Experience of U.S. Supreme Court Nominees at Time of
Nomination ............................................................................................................... 12
Figure 2. Number of Days from Vacancy Announcement of Departing Justice to
President’s Public Announcement Identifying Nominee for Vacancy .................................. 17

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 26
Acknowledgments......................................................................................................... 26

Congressional Research Service

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee

Background
The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance in American
politics.1 Each appointment to the nine-member Court is of consequence because of the enormous
judicial power that the Court exercises, separate from, and independent of, the executive and
legislative branches. While “on average, a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years,”2
the time at which any given appointment wil be made to the Court is unpredictable.
Appointments may be infrequent (with a vacancy on the Court occurring only once or twice, or
never at al , during a particular President’s years in office)3 or occur in close proximity to each
other (with a particular President afforded several opportunities to name persons to the Court).4
The procedure for appointing a Justice to the Supreme Court is provided for in the U.S.
Constitution in only a few words. The “Appointments Clause” (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2)
states that the President “shal nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,
shal appoint ... Judges of the supreme Court.”5 While the process of appointing Justices has
undergone some changes over two centuries, its most essential feature—the sharing of power
between the President and the Senate—has remained unchanged: To receive appointment to the
Court, one must first be formal y selected (“nominated”) by the President and then approved
(“confirmed”) by the Senate.
Although not mentioned in the Constitution, an important role is also played midway in the
process—after the President selects, but before the Senate as a whole considers the nominee—by
the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since the end of the Civil War, almost every Supreme Court

1 T his scope of this report involves the selection of a nominee to the Supreme Court by the President. For a report
providing information and analysis related to consideration of nominations to the Court by the Senate Judiciary
Commit tee, see CRS Report R44236, Suprem e Court Appointm ent Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary
Com m ittee
, by Barry J. McMillion. For a report providing information and analysis related to floor action on
nominations, see CRS Report R44234, Suprem e Court Appointment Process: Senate Debate and Confirm ation Vote , by
Barry J. McMillion.
2 U.S. Supreme Court, The Supreme Court of the United States (Washington: Published by the Supreme Court with the
cooperation of the Supreme Court Historical Society, revised September 2006), p. 10. (Here inafter cited as Supreme
Court, Suprem e Court of the United States.)
3 Of the 44 individuals who served as President of the United States prior to the start of the Biden presidency on
January 20, 2021, 6 (Presidents Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Calvin
Coolidge, and Gerald R. Ford) made one Supreme Court nomination each, while 3 others (Presidents Will iam Henry
Harrison, Zachary T aylor, and Jimmy Carter) were unable to make a single nomination to the Court since no vacancies
occurred on the Court during their presidencies. Note that President Andrew Johnson’s single nomination to the Court
was not approved by the Senate. T he remaining 35 Presidents made two or more nominations to the Supreme Court. As
of this writing, President Biden has made no appointments to the Court.
4 For instance, nine vacancies occurred on the Court during a 5 ½-year period of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency,
with all of FDR’s nine nominations to fill those vacancies confirmed by the Senate. T he President with the largest
number of Supreme Court confirmations in one term (apart from the first eight of George Washington’s nomina tions—
all in his first term, and all confirmed) was William Howard T aft, who, during his four years in office, made six Court
nominations, all of which were confirmed by the Senate.
5 T he decision of the Framers at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to have the President and the Senate share in the
appointment of the Supreme Court Justices and other principal officers of the government, one scholar wrote, was a
compromise reached between “one group of men [who] feared the abuse of the appointing power by the executive and
favored appointments by the legislative body,” and “another group of more resolute men, eager to establish a strong
national government with a vigorous administration, [who] favored the granting of the power of appointment to the
President.” Joseph P. Harris, The Advice and Consent of the Senate: A Study of the Confirm ation of Appointm ents by
the United States Senate
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1953; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press,
1968), p. 33. (Hereinafter cited as Harris, Advice and Consent of the Senate.)
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nomination received by the Senate has first been referred to and considered by the Judiciary
Committee before being acted on by the Senate as a whole.
For the President, the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice can be a notable measure by which
history will judge his Presidency.6 For the Senate, a decision to confirm is a solemn matter as
wel , for it is the Senate alone, through its “Advice and Consent” function, without any formal
involvement of the House of Representatives, which acts as a safeguard on the President’s
judgment. Traditional y, the Senate has tended to be less deferential to the President in his choice
of Supreme Court Justices than in his appointment of persons to high executive branch positions.7
The more exacting standard usual y applied to Supreme Court nominations reflects the special
importance of the Court, coequal to and independent of the presidency and Congress. Senators are
also mindful that, as noted earlier, Justices receive what can amount to lifetime appointments.8
The most recent nomination to the Supreme Court by a President occurred in 2020. On September
18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died while stil an active judge on the Court. On
September 26, 2020, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fil the vacancy
created by Justice Ginsburg’s death.
How Supreme Court Vacancies Occur9
Under the Constitution, Justices on the Supreme Court hold office “during good Behaviour,”10 in
effect typical y receiving lifetime appointments to the Court. Once confirmed, Justices may hold
office for as long as they live or until they voluntarily step down. Such job security in the federal
government is conferred solely on judges and, by constitutional design, is intended to insure the
independence of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, from the President and
Congress.11

6 Consider, for example, President John Adams’s fateful nomination in 1801 of John Marshall. During his more than 34
years of service as Chief Justice, Marshall, “more than any other individual in the history of the Court, determined the
developing character of America’s Federal constitutional system” and “raised the Court from its lowly, if not
discredited, position to a level of equality with the executive and legislative branches.” Henry J. Abraham, Justices and
Presidents: A Political History of Appointm ents to the Suprem e Court
, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1992), p. 83. (Hereinafter cited as Abraham, Justices and Presidents.) Looking back on his appointment a quarter
century before, Adams in 1826 was quoted as saying, “ My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was
the proudest act of my life.” Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History, rev. edition, 2 vols. (Boston:
Little Brown, 1926), vol. 1, p. 178.
7 “By well-established custom, the Senate accords the President wide latitude in the selection of the members of his
Cabinet, who are regarded as his chief assistants and advisers. It is recognized that unless he is given a free hand in the
choice of his Cabinet, he cannot be held responsible for the administration of the executive branch.” Harris, Advice and
Consent
of the Senate, p. 259.
8 T he Senate “is perhaps most acutely attentive to its [advise and consent] duty when it considers a nominee to the
Supreme Court. T hat this is so reflects not only the importance of our Nation’s highest tribunal, but also our
recognition that while Members of the Congress and Presidents come and go ..., the tenure of a Supreme Court Justice
can span generations.” Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, debate in Senate on Supreme Court nomination of Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, Congressional Record, vol. 139, August 2, 1993, p. 18142.
9 T his section of the report uses some text previously published in CRS Report RL33118, Speed of Presidential and
Senate Actions on Suprem e Court Nom inations, 1900 -2010
, by R. Sam Garrett and Denis Steven Rutkus.
10 U.S. Constitution, art. III, §1.
11 Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper 78 (“T he Judges as Guardians of the Constitution”), maintained that, while
the judiciary was “in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its coordinate branches ... ,
nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as perm anency in office.” He added that if the courts
“are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration
will afford a strong argument for the perm anent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so m uch as this
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A President has no power to remove a Supreme Court Justice from office. A Justice may be
removed by Congress, but only through the process of impeachment by the House and conviction
by the Senate. Only one Justice has ever been impeached (in an episode which occurred in 1804),
and he remained in office after being acquitted by the Senate.12 Many Justices serve for 20 to 30
years and sometimes are stil on the Court decades after the President who nominated them has
left office.13
Death of a Sitting Justice
The prospect of lifetime tenure, interesting work, and the prestige of the office often result in
Justices choosing to serve on the Court for as long as possible. Consequently, it has not been
unusual, historical y, for Justices to die while in office. Specifical y, of the 113 vacancies that
have occurred on the Court during the past 225 years, from the first vacancy in 1791 to the
vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in 2020, 48 (or 42%) have arisen as the
result of the death of a sitting Justice.
Note, however, that over the past 60 years it has been relatively rare for vacancies on the Court to
be created by the death of a Justice.14 Since the mid-1950s, the most recent vacancy on the Court,
created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg, is only the third instance during this period of a
vacancy created by the death of a Justice. Prior to the deaths of Justice Ginsburg (in 2020),
Justice Scalia (in 2016), and Chief Justice Rehnquist (in 2005), the last sitting Justice to die while
serving on the Court was Justice Robert Jackson (in 1954).

to that independent spirit in the judges....” (Emphases added.) Benjamin Fletcher Wright, ed., The Federalist by
Alexander Ham ilton, Jam es Madison, and John Jay
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
1966), p. 491 (first quote) and p. 494 (second quote). (Hereinafter cited as Wright, The Federalist.)
12 In 1804, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Justice Samuel Chase. T he vote to impeach Chase, a staun ch
Federalist and outspoken critic of Jeffersonian Republican policies, was strictly along party lines. In 1805, after a
Senate trial, Chase was acquitted after votes in the Senate fell short of the necessary two -thirds majority on any of the
impeachment articles approved by the House. “ Chase’s impeachment and trial set a precedent of strict construction of
the impeachment clause and bolstered the judiciary’s claim of independence from political tampering.” David G.
Savage, Guide to the U.S. Suprem e Court, 4th ed. (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2004), vol. 1, p. 258.
(Hereinafter cited as Savage, Guide to the U.S. Suprem e Court.) In a few other instances, Justices have been the object
of preliminary House Judiciary Committee inquiries into allegations of conduct possibly constituting grounds for
impeachment, but in none of these instances was impeachment recommended by the committee. In another instance,
Justice Abe Fortas, on May 14, 1969, resigned from the Court three days after a House Member stated he had prepared
articles of impeachment against the Justice, and one day after another House Member proposed that the House
Judiciary Committee begin a preliminary investigation into allegations that the Justice was guilty of various ethical
violations. See Charles Gardner Geyh, When Courts & Congress Collide (Ann Arbor, MI: T he University of Michigan
Press, 2009), pp. 119-125; Lee Epstein et al., The Suprem e Court Com pendium: Data, Decisions & Developm ents, 4th
ed. (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007), p. 428. (Hereinafter cited as Epstein, Suprem e Court
Com pendium .
); and U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives of the
United States
, prepared by Asher C. Hinds, clerk at the Speaker’s table (Washington, GPO, 1907), vol. 3, sec. 2508.
13 A Supreme Court booklet published in 2006 noted that since the formation of the Court in 1790, there had been only
17 Chief Justices and 98 Associate Justices, “with Justices serving for an average of 15 years.” Supreme Court,
Suprem e Court of the United States, p. 10.
14 Prior to 1900, in contrast to more recent years, it was more common for vacancies to arise on the Court as a result of
the death of a sitting Justice. Of the 51 vacancies on the Court that arose between 1791 and 1899, 30 (or 59%) arose in
this manner.
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Retirement or Resignation of a Sitting Justice
Since 1954, voluntary retirement has been by far the most common way in which Justices have
left the bench (20, or 80%, of 25 vacancies occurring after 1954 resulted from retirements).
In contrast to retirement, resignation (i.e., leaving the bench before becoming eligible for
retirement compensation) is rare.15 In recent history, two Justices have resigned from the Court.
Justice Arthur Goldberg resigned in 1965 to assume the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations.16 Justice Abe Fortas resigned four years later, in 1969, after protracted criticism over
controversial consulting work while on the bench and a failed nomination to be elevated from
Associate Justice to Chief Justice.17 When Justices retire or resign, the President is usual y
notified by formal letter.18
Pursuant to a law enacted in 1939, a Justice (or any other federal judge receiving a lifetime
appointment) may also retire if “unable because of permanent disability to perform the duties of
his office,” by furnishing the President a certificate of disability.19 Prior to 1939, specific
legislation from Congress was required to provide retirement benefits to a Justice departing the
Court because of disability who otherwise would be ineligible for such benefits, due to
insufficient age and length of service. In such circumstances in 1910, for instance, Congress took
legislative action granting a pension to Justice Wil iam H. Moody. As the Washington Post
reported at the time, although il ness had kept Justice Moody from the bench for “almost a year,”
he was not yet eligible for retirement.20
Nomination of a Sitting Justice to Chief Justice Position
When a Chief Justice vacancy arises, the President may choose to nominate a sitting Associate
Justice for the Court’s top post.21 If the Chief Justice nominee is confirmed, he or she must, to

15 Under 28 U.S.C. §371, Supreme Court Justices, like other Article III (tenure “during good Behaviour”) federal
judges, may retire, and be entitled to receive retirement compensation, in one of two ways—either by taking “ senior
status” or by “retiring from office.” Beginning at age 65, they are entitled to receive retirement compensation, if having
served a minimum 10 years as an Art icle III judge, their age and overall Article III judicial experience totals 80 years.
(Hence, under this “Rule of 80,” a Justice of age 65 must have served 15 years to become eligible for retirement
compensation; a Justice of age 66, 14 years; a Justice o f age 67, 13 years; etc.) Judges who take senior status retire
from regular active service but retain their judicial office and the salary of the office, subject to annual certification of
their having performed certain judicial or administrative duties in the preceding year. Judges who retire from office
completely relinquish their judicial office with the right to a frozen lifetime annuity equal to the salary of the office at
the time of retirement. In contrast, a Justice’s resignation entails voluntarily relinquishing his or her judicial office
without meeting the age and service requirements of the Rule of 80 (and thus being ineligible to receive retirement
compensation). See U.S. Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Senior Status and Retirem ent for Article III
Judges
, April 1999 (Judges Information Series, No. 4), pp. vii-viii.
16 Carroll Kilpatrick, “Goldberg is Named to Stevenson Post,” Washington Post, July 21, 1965, p. A1.
17 On the controversies surrounding Justice Fortas’s nomination an d resignation, see Artemus Ward, Deciding to
Leave: The Politics of Retirem ent from the United States Suprem e Court
(Albany: State University of New York Press,
2003), pp. 171-175. (Hereinafter cited as Ward, Deciding to Leave); and Philip Warden and Aldo Beckman, “ Fortas
Agrees to Quit, Nixon Aide Says,” Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1969, p. 7.
18 See, for example, the letter submitted by Justice David H. Souter to President Obama, announcing Justice Souter’s
intention to retire, at http://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/press/DHSLetter.pdf.
19 T he law provides that a Justice retiring under these provisions shall receive for the remainder of his lifetime “the
salary he is receiving at t he date of retirement” or, if his service was less than 10 years, one-half of that salary. Act of
August 5, 1939, ch. 433, 53 Stat. 1204 -1205; 28 U.S.C. §372(a).
20 “Moody Will Retire,” Washington Post, June 15, 1910, p. 1.
21 Alternately, a President might nominate an individual not currently serving on the Court to fill the vacant Chief
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assume the new position, resign as Associate Justice, requiring a new nominee from the President
to fil the newly vacated Associate Justice seat.
The scenario described above is a relatively rare occurrence. From 1900 to the present, Presidents
attempted to elevate Associate Justices to Chief Justice four times, with the Senate confirming the
nominees on three occasions. Most recently, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated then-
Associate Justice Wil iam H. Rehnquist to be Chief Justice after Chief Justice Burger announc ed
he was stepping down from the Court.22 Consequently, President Reagan also nominated Antonin
Scalia to fil the Associate Justice vacancy that would ultimately be created by Justice
Rehnquist’s elevation to Chief Justice.
Advice and Consent
As discussed above, the need for a Supreme Court nominee arises when a vacancy occurs on the
Court due to the death, retirement, or resignation of a Justice (or when a Justice announces his or
her intention to retire or resign).23 It then becomes the President’s constitutional responsibility to
select a successor to the vacating Justice,24 as wel as the constitutional responsibility of the
Senate to exercise its role in providing “advice and consent” to the President.25
The Role of Senate Advice
Constitutional scholars have differed as to how much importance the Framers of the Constitution
attached to the word “advice” in the phrase “advice and consent.” The Framers, some have
maintained, contemplated the Senate performing an advisory, or recommending, role to the
President prior to his selection of a nominee, in addition to a confirming role afterwards.26 Others,
by contrast, have insisted that the Senate’s “advice and consent” role was meant to be strictly that
of determining, after the President’s selection had been made, whether to approve the President’s

Justice position. Most recently, President G.W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts, Jr., as Chief Justice to fill the
vacancy created by the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist. At the time of his nomination, Mr. Roberts was not serving as
an Associate Justice on the Court.
22 T he other Associate Justices nominated for Chief Justice during the period were Edward D. White (1910), Harlan F.
Stone (1941), and Abe Fortas (1968). As noted previously, Justice Fortas’s nomination failed to receive Senate
confirmation.
23 As noted above, a Supreme Court vacancy also would occur if a Justice were removed by Congress through the
impeachment process, but no Justice has ever been removed from the Court in this way. For a comprehensive review of
how and why past Supreme Court Justices have left the Court, see Ward, Deciding To Leave, pp. 25-223. Ward, in
introduction at p. 7, explained that his book, among other things, examines the extent to which Justices, in their
retirement decisions, have been “motivated by strategic, partisan, personal, and institutional concerns.”
24 For a book-length examination of how several recent Presidents have selected nominees to serve on the Supreme
Court, see David Alistair Yalof, Pursuit of Justices: Presidential Politics and the Selection of Suprem e Court Nom inees
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). (Hereinafter cited as Yalof, Pursuit of Justices.) See also Greenburg,
Suprem e Conflict, which examined in depth the processes followed by the Administrations of Presidents Ronald
Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush in selecting Supreme Court nominees; and
Christine L. Nemacheck, Strategic Selection: Presidential Nom ination of Suprem e Court Justices from Herbert Hoover
Through George W. Bush
(Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2007).
25 Article II, Section 2, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
26 See, for example, John Ferling, “T he Senate and Federal Judges: T he Intent of the Founding Fathers,” Capitol
Studies
, vol. 2, Winter 1974, p. 66: “ Since the convention acted at a time when nearly every state constitution, and the
Articles of Confederation, permitted a legislative voice in the selection of judges, it is inconceiva ble that the delegates
could have intended something less than full Senate participation in the appointment process.”
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choice.27 Bridging these opposing schools of thought, another scholar asserted that the “more
sensible reading of the term ‘advice’ is that it means that the Senate is constitutional y entitled to
give advice to a president on whom as wel as what kinds of persons he should nominate to
certain posts, but this advice is not binding.”28 Historical y, the degree to which Senate advice has
been sought or used has varied, depending on the President.
It is a common, though not universal, practice for Presidents, as a matter of courtesy, to consult
with Senate party leaders as wel as with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee before
choosing a nominee.29 Senators who candidly inform a President of their objections to a
prospective nominee may help in identifying shortcomings in that candidate or the possibility of a
confirmation battle in the Senate, which the President might want to avoid. Conversely, input
from the Senate might draw new Supreme Court candidates to the President’s attention, or
provide additional reasons to nominate a person who already is on the President’s list of
prospective nominees.30
As a rule, Presidents are also careful to consult with a candidate’s home-state Senators, especial y
if they are of the same political party as the President. The reason for such care is due to the long-
standing custom of “senatorial courtesy,” whereby Senators, in the interests of collegiality, are
inclined, though not bound, to support a Senate colleague who opposes a presidential nominee

27 See, for example, Harris, Advice and Consent of the Senate, p. 34: “T he debates in the Convention do not support the
thesis since advanced that the framers of the Constitution intended that the President should secure the advice —that is,
the recommendations—of the Senate or of individual members, before making a nomination.”
28 Michael J. Gerhardt, The Federal Appointments Process (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 33.
(Hereinafter cited as Gerhardt, The Federal Appointm ent Process.) T he Constitution, Gerhardt added, “ does not
mandate any formal prenomination role for the Senate to consult with the president; nor does it imp ose any obligation
on the president to consult with the Senate prior to nominating people to confirmable posts. T he Constitution does,
however, make it clear that the president or his nominees may have to pay a price if he ignores the Senate’s advice.”
Ibid.
29 “T o a certain extent, presidents have always looked to the Senate for recommendations and subsequently relied on a
nominee’s backers there to help move the nomination through the Senate.” George L. Watson and John A. Stookey,
Shaping Am erica: The Politics of Suprem e Court Appointm ents (New York, HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995),
p. 78. (Hereinafter cited as Watson and Stookey, Shaping Am erica.)
30 President Clinton’s search for a successor to retiring Justice Harry A. Blackmun, during the spring of 1994, is
illustrative of a President seeking and receiving Senate advice. According to one report, the President, as he came close
to a decision after holding his options “close to the vest” for more than a month, “began for the first time to consult
with leading senators about his top candidates for the Court seat and solicited advice about prospects for easy
confirmation.” T he advice he received included “sharp Republican opposition to one of his leading choices, Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt.” Gwen Ifill, “Clinton Again Puts Off Decision on Nominee for Court,” The New York Times,
May 11, 1994, p. A16.
In 2005, the Administration of President George W. Bush engaged in a level of consultation with Senators over
prospective Supreme Court nominations th at White House officials called unprecedented. Prior to the President’s
nominations to the Court of John G. Roberts Jr., Harriet E. Miers, and Samuel A. Alito Jr., the President and his aides
reportedly consulted with, and sought input from, the vast major ity of the Senate’s Members. Prior to announcing the
Miers nomination, for instance, it was reported that “the President and his staff talked with more than 80 Senators.”
Deb Riechmann, “Bush Expected to Name High Court Nominee,” Associated Press Online, September 30, 2005, at
http://www.nexis.com. According to a White House spokesman, the more th an 80 Senators included all 18 members of
the Senate Judiciary Committee and over two-thirds of Senate Democrats. Steve Holland, “ Bush Completes
Consultations, Nears Court Decision,” Reuters News, September 30, 2005, at http://global.factiva.com.
Likewise, in 2009, President Barack Obama consulted Senators prior to selecting Sonia Sotomay or to succeed outgoing
Justice David Souter. Announcing the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Court, President Obama said the selection
process had been “rigorous and extensive” and included seeking “the advice of Members of Congress on both sides of
the aisle, including every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” U.S. President (Obama, Barack H.), “ Remarks
on the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor T o Be a Supreme Court Associate Justice,” Daily Compilation of Presidential
Docum ents, May 26, 2009, DCPD-200900402, p. 1
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from that Member’s state. While usual y invoked by home-state Senators to block lower federal
court nominees whom they find unacceptable, the custom of “senatorial courtesy” has sometimes
also played a part in the defeat of Supreme Court nominations.31
Besides giving private advice to the President, Senators may also counsel a President publicly. A
Senator, for example, may use a Senate floor statement or issue a statement to the news media
indicating support for, or opposition to, a potential Court nominee, or type or quality of nominee,
for the purpose of attracting the President’s attention and influencing the President’s choice.32
Advice from Other Sources
Advice, it should be noted, may come to Presidents not only from the Senate but from many other
sources. One key source of influence may be high-level advisers within the President’s
Administration.33 Others who may provide advice include House Members, party leaders, interest
groups,34 news media commentators, and, periodical y, Justices already on the Court.35 Presidents
are free to consult with, and receive advice from, whomever they choose.

31 “Numerous instances of the application of senatorial courtesy are on record, with the practice at least partially
accounting for rejection of several nominations to the Supreme Court.” Henry J. Abraham, Justices, Presidents and
Senators: A History of the U.S. Suprem e Court Appointm ents from Washington to Clinton
, new and rev. ed. (New
York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), pp. 19 -20. (Hereinafter cited as Abraham, Justices, Presidents and
Senators
.) Senatorial courtesy, Abraham wrot e, appeared to have been the sole factor in President Grover Cleveland’s
unsuccessful nominations of William B. Hornblower (1893) and Wheeler H. Peckham (1894), both of New York. Each
was rejected by the Senate after Senator David B. Hill (D-NY) invoked senatorial courtesy.
32 In 1987, for instance, some Senators publicly warned President Reagan that he could expect problems in the Senate if
he nominated U.S. appellate court judge Robert H. Bork to replace vacating Justice Lewis F. Powell. Among them,
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) said the Reagan Administration would be “ inviting problems” by nominating Bork. T he
chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE), said that, while Bork was a “ brilliant man,” it did
“not mean that there should be six or seven or eight or even five Borks” on the Court. Helen Dewar and Howard Kurtz,
“Byrd T hreatens Stall on Court Confirmation,” The Washington Post, June 30, 1987, p. A7. In what was regarded as a
thinly veiled reference to a possible Bork nomination, Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D -CA) called on Senate
Democrats to form a “solid phalanx” to block an “ideological court coup” by President Reagan . Al Kamen and Ruth
Marcus, “Nomination to Test Senate Role in Shaping of Supreme Court,” The Washington Post, July 1, 1987, p. A9.
President Reagan, nonetheless, nominated Judge Bork, only to have the nomination meet widespread Senate opposition
and ultimate Senate rejection.
33 Modern Presidents, one scholar wrote, “are often forced to arbitrate among factions within their own administrations,
each pursuing its own interests and agendas.” In recent Administrations, he maintained, the final choice of a nominee
“has usually reflected one advisor’s hard-won victory over his rivals, without necessarily accounting for the president’s
other political interests.” Yalof, Pursuit of Justices, p. 3. During the G.H.W. Bush presidency, for example, several of
the President’s advisors disagreed as to their first preference for the Brennan vacancy. Of potential nominees,
“eventually the names were winnowed to two: David Souter and Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. ‘The
one that was really pushing very strongly for [Souter] was [White House Counsel] Boyden [Gray]’, ... when President
Bush took a straw poll of his judicial selection team (Sununu, Gray, T hornburgh, and Vice President Dan Quayle), the
result was a split decision. T hornburg recalls that he and Gray supported Souter, while Sununu and Quayle preferred
Jones.” Barbara A. Perry and Henry J. Abraham, “From Oral History to Oral Argument: George Bush’s Supreme Court
Appointments,” in 41: Inside the Presidency of George H.W. Bush, ed. Michael Nelson and Barbara A. Perry (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 2014), pp. 170 -171 (Hereinafter cited as Perry and Abraham, Oral History to Oral
Argum ent
).
34 For example, President T rump, in selecting Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy created by Justice Anthony
Kennedy’s retirement, reportedly “ made his pick from a list of more than two dozen potential nominees drawn up with
help from conservative legal activists at the Federalist Society and T he Heritage Foundation.” Scott Horsley, “T rump
T aps Brett Kavanaugh As His 2nd Supreme Court Pick,” National Public Radio, July 9, 2018, at https://www.npr.org/
2018/07/09/624727227/trump-to-name-his-second-supreme-court-pick.
35 For numerous examples of Justices advising Presidents regarding Supreme Court appointments, both in the 19 th and
20th centuries, see Abraham, Justices, Presidents and Senators, pp. 21-23; see also in Abraham’s earlier work, Justices
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Criteria for Selecting a Nominee
While the precise criteria used in selecting a Supreme Court nominee vary from President to
President, two general motivations appear to underlie the choices of almost every President. One
is the desire to have the nomination serve the President’s political interests (in the partisan and
electoral senses of the word “political,” as wel as in the public policy sense); the second is to
demonstrate that a search was successfully made for a nominee having the highest professional
qualifications.
Political Considerations
Virtual y every President is presumed to take into account a wide range of political considerations
when faced with the responsibility of fil ing a Supreme Court vacancy. For instance, most
Presidents, it is assumed, wil be inclined to select a nominee whose political or ideological views
appear compatible with their own. Specifical y, “Presidents are, for the most part, results-
oriented. This means that they want Justices on the Court who wil vote to decide cases consistent
with the president’s policy preferences.”36
The President also may consider whether a prospective nomination wil be pleasing to the
constituencies upon whom he especial y relies for political support or whose support he would
like to attract.37 For political or other reasons, nominee attributes such as party affiliation,
ideological orientation, geographic origin, ethnicity, religion, and gender may be of particular
importance to a President.38 A President also might take into account whether the existing
“balance” among the Court’s members (in a political party, ideological, demographic, or other
sense) should be maintained or altered.39 The prospects for a potential nominee receiving Senate

and Presidents, pp. 186-187 (Chief Justice William Howard T aft’s influence over President Warren G. Harding); pp.
233-234 (Justice Felix Frankfurter’s advice to President Franklin D. Roosevelt); p. 243 (former Chief Justice Charles
Evans Hughes’s and former Justice Owen J. Roberts’s advice to President Harry S T ruman); and pp. 305-306 (Chief
Justice Warren Burger’s advice to President Richard M. Nixon).
36 Watson and Stookey, Shaping America, pp. 58-59.
37 Judge Amy Coney Barret, for example, reportedly may have been selected by President T rump in part because of her
potential political appeal to some of the voters to whom President T rump himself was appealing during his 2020
reelection bid. Along these lines, it has been reported that “Trump and his allies are itching for ano ther fight over
Barrett’s [religious] faith, seeing it as a windfall that would backfire on Democrats. Catholic voters in Pennsylvania, in
particular, are viewed as a pivotal demographic in the swing state that Biden, also a Catholic, is trying to recaptur e.”
Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro, and Mary Clare Jalonick , “ T rump taps ‘eminently qualified’ Barrett for Supreme Court,”
Associated Press, September 26, 2020, at https://apnews.com/article/us-supreme-court -michael-pence-archive-courts-
donald-trump-e2678a13cf3d2383300db6f1416664d6 .
38 Considerations of geographic representation, for example, influenced President George Washingt on in 1789, to
divide his first six appointments to the Court between three nominees from the North and three from the South. See
Watson and Stookey, Shaping Am erica, p. 60, and Abraham, Justices, Presidents, and Senators, pp. 59-60. In terms of
demographic representation, President Reagan in 1981, for example, was sensitive to the absence of any female
Justices on the Court. In announcing his choice of Sandra Day O’Connor to replace vacating Justice Potter Stewart,
President Reagan noted that “during my campaign for the Presidency, I made a commitment that one of my first
appointments to the Supreme Court vacancy would be the most qualified woman that I could possibly find.” U.S.
President (Reagan), “Remarks Announcing the Intention T o Nominate Sandra Day O’Connor T o Be an Associate
Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, July 7, 1981,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States,
Ronald Reagan, 1981
(Washington: GPO, 1982), p. 596
39 According to one report, for example, President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Court as he sought “to
shift the nation’s highest court further to the [ideological] right.” Associated Press, “T rump announces nomination of
Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court,” July 10, 2018, https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/07/09/trump-names-
supreme-court -pick-brett-kavanaugh. Additionally, it was reported at the time of the Barrett nomination that it set
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confirmation are another consideration. Even if a controversial nominee is believed to be
confirmable, an assessment must be made as to whether the benefits of confirmation wil be
worth the costs of the political battle to be waged.40
Professional Qualifications
Most Presidents also want their Supreme Court nominees to have unquestionably outstanding
legal qualifications. Presidents look for a high degree of merit in their nominees not only in
recognition of the demanding nature of the work that awaits someone appointed to the Court,41
but also because of the public’s expectations that a Supreme Court nominee be highly qualified.42
With such expectations of excel ence, Presidents often present their nominees as the best person,
or among the best persons, available.43 Many nominees, as a result, have distinguished themselves
in the law (as lower court judges, legal scholars, or private practitioners) or have served as
Members of Congress, as federal administrators, or as governors.44 Although neither the

“another milestone in T rump’s rightward shift of the top U.S. judicial body.” Steve Holland, Lawrence Hurley, and
Andrew Chung, “ T rump picks Barrett as he moves to tilt U.S. Supreme Court rightward,” Reuters, September 26, 2020,
at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-trump/trump-picks-barrett-as-he-moves-to-tilt-u-s-supreme-court -
rightward-idUSKBN26H0GI.
40 While the “desire to appoint justices sympathetic to their own ideological and policy views may drive most
presidents in selecting judges,” the field of potentially acceptable nominees for most presidents, according to Watson
and Stookey, is narrowed down by at least five “subsidiary motivations”—(1) rewarding personal or political support,
(2) representing certain interests, (3) cultivating political support, (4) ensuring a safe nominee, and (5) picking the most
qualified nominee. Watson and Stookey, Shaping Am erica, p. 59.
41 Commenting on the nature of the Court’s work, and the degree of qualification required of those who serve on the
Court, the ABA states the following: “T he significance, range and complexity of the issues considered by the justices,
as well as the finality and nation-wide impact of the Supreme Court’s decisions, are among the factors that require the
appointment of a nominee of exceptional ability.” American Bar Association, ABA Standing Committee on the Federal
Judiciary: What It Is and How it Works
, p. 10, at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/GAO/
Backgrounder.authcheckdam.pdf.
42 One of the “unwritten codes,” two scholars on the judiciary have written, “is that a judicial appointment is different
from run-of-the-mill patronage. T hus, although the political rules may allow a president to reward an old ally with a
seat on the bench, even here tradition has created an expectation that the would-be judge have some reputation for
professional competence, the more so as the judgeship in question goes from the trial court to the appeals court to the
Supreme Court level.” Robert A. Carp and Ronald A. Stidham, Judicial Process in America, 3rd ed. (Washington: CQ
Press, 1996), pp. 240-241.
43 President Gerald R. Ford, for example, said he believed his nominee, U.S. appellate court judge John Paul Stevens,
“to be best qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.” U.S. President (Ford), “Remarks
Announcing Intention T o Nominate John Paul Stevens T o Be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court,
November 28, 1975,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, 1975 , Book II
(Washington: GPO, 1977), p. 1917. And President Obama, for example, stated that his nominee, U.S. appellate court
judge Merrick Garland, is “ widely recognized” as “ one of America’s sharpest legal minds” and someone who is
“uniquely prepared” to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court. U.S. President (Obama), “Remarks by the President
Announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court,” March 16, 2016, Office of the Press
Secretary, T he White House. President T rump characterized his nominee to the Court, Neil Gorsuch, as having
“outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, [and] tremendous discipline ...” U.S. President (T rump), “Full T ranscript and
Video: T rump Picks Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court,” New York Times, January 31, 2017. Most recently, President
T rump described Brett Kavanaugh as having “impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a prov en
commitment to equal justice under the law.” President Donald T rump, “Remarks by President T rump Announcing
Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as the Nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” The White
House
– Briefings and Statem ents, July 9, 2018, at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-
president -trump-announcing-judge-brett -m-kavanaugh-nominee-associate-justice-supreme-court-united-states.
44 For lists of the professional, educational, and political backgrounds of every Justice ser ving on the Court from 1790
to 2007, see Epstein, Suprem e Court Com pendium, pp. 291-341.
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Constitution nor federal law requires that a Supreme Court Justice be a lawyer, every person
nominated to the Court thus far has been.45
After the President formal y submits a nomination to the Senate (but prior to committee hearings
on the nomination), the nominee is evaluated by the American Bar Association’s Standing
Committee on the Federal Judiciary. The committee stresses that an evaluation focuses strictly on
the candidate’s “professional qualifications: integrity, professional competence and judicial
temperament” and does “not take into account [his or her] philosophy, political affiliation or
ideology.”46
Figure 1 reports, from 1945 to the present, the type of professional position or occupation held by
an individual at the time of his or her nomination to the Supreme Court.47 So, for example, at the
time of his nomination by President Truman in 1945, Harold H. Burton was serving as a U.S.
Senator from Ohio. Since 1945, the most common type of professional experience at the time of
his or her nomination has been service as a federal appel ate court judge (25, or 64%, of 39
nominees),48 followed by service as an official in the executive branch (8, or 21%, of 39
nominees).49 Overal , at least since 1945, it has been relatively rare for a nominee, at the time of
nomination, to be serving as a state judge, working as an attorney in private practice, or holding
elective office.
Note that the percentage of nominees serving as U.S. appel ate court judges at the time of
nomination is even greater during relatively recent presidencies. From 1981 to the present, for

45 A legal scholar notes that while the Constitution “does not preclude a president from nominating nonlawyers to key
Justice Department posts or federal judgeships,” t he delegates to the constitutional convention and the ratifiers “did
occasionally express their expectation that a president would nominate qualified people to federal judgeships and
other important governmental offices; but those comments were expressions of hope and concern about the
consequences of and the need to devise a check against a president’s failure to nominate qualified people, particularly
in the absence of any constitutionally required minimal criteria for certain positions.” Gerhardt, The Federal
Appointm ents Process
, p. 35.
46 American Bar Association, The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary: What It Is and How It Works, p.
1, at http://www.abanet.org/scfedjud/federal_judiciary09.pdf. T he role of the ABA in evaluating the President’s
nominee is discussed further in CRS Report R44236, Suprem e Court Appointm ent Process: Consideration by the
Senate Judiciary Com m ittee
, by Barry J. McMillion.
47 Consequently, the table does not indicate every occupation or profession held by a nominee. Justice Vinson, for
example, was serving as Secretary of the T reasury at the time of his nomination to the Court —but his professional
experiences prior to his nomination also included service as a U.S. representative from Kentucky, a county prosecutor,
and work as an attorney in private practice.
48 Of the 25 nominees who were serving as U.S. circuit court judges at the time of being n ominated to the Supreme
Court, the average number of years of service as a circuit court judge prior to a President announcing their nomination
was 7.3 years (the median was 6.9 years). T he five nominees who served as circuit court judges for the least amo unt of
time prior to having their nomination to the Court announced by a President were David Souter (served less than 3
months, nominated by President G.H.W. Bush), G. Harrold Carswell (7 months, President Nixon), Charles E.
Whittaker (9 months, President Eisenhower), John Marshall Harlan II (9 months, President Eisenhower), and Douglas
H. Ginsburg (1 year, President Reagan). Of the five, Carswell and Ginsburg were not confirmed. T he five nominees
who served as circuit court judges for the greatest amount of time prior to having their nomination to the Court
announced by a President were Merrick Garland (19 years, nominated by President Obama), Samuel Alito Jr. (15.5
years, G.W. Bush), Stephen Breyer (13.4 years, Clinton), Warren E. Burger (13.2 years, Nixo n), and Ruth Bader
Ginsburg (13.0 years, Clinton).
T he most recent nominee to the Court, Amy Coney Barrett, served approximately 2.9 years as a circuit court judge
prior to her nomination.
49 T he eight executive branch nominees include one who had served as White House Counsel (Harriet Miers), two as
solicitor general of the United States (Elena Kagan, T hurgood Marshall), two as deputy or assistant attorneys general
(William Rehnquist, Byron White) and three as Cabinet secretaries (Arthur Goldberg—Secretary of Labor, T om
Clark—Attorney General, Frederick Vinson—Secretary of the T reasury).
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example, 15 (or 83%) of 18 nominees were serving as appel ate judges immediately prior to
nomination.50 In contrast, since 1981, no nominees to the Court were engaged in private practice
or serving in elective office at the time of nomination.

50 One scholar has observed that “[r]ather than following historical practice and nominating prominent politicians to the
Court, presidents over the last several decades hav e used the courts, especially the federal circuit courts, as a primary
and nearly exclusive recruiting pool.... Recent service on a U.S. court of appeals is certainly no guarantee of
confirmation or an easy confirmation process, but recent presidents appar ently believe that it contributes to
confirmation success.” T erri L. Peretti, “Where have all the politicians gone? Recruiting for the modern Supreme
Court,” Judicature, vol. 91, no. 3, November-December 2007, pp. 112, 117.
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Figure 1. Type of Professional Experience of U.S. Supreme Court Nominees at Time
of Nomination
(1945-Present)

Source: Congressional Research Service.
Notes: This figure identifies, for nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court from 1945 to the present, the type of
professional experience at the time of nomination to the Court.
* Nomination returned to or withdrawn by the President or rejected by the Senate.
** President announced intention to nominate but did not formal y submit nomination to Senate.
*** Received recess appointment to the Court during the preceding calendar year. The year listed is the year in
which the nomination was approved by the Senate.
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A President’s search for professional excel ence in a nominee rarely proceeds without also taking
political factors into account. Rather, “more typical y,” a President “seeks the best person from
among a list of those who fulfil certain of these other [political] criteria and, of course, who share
a president’s vision of the nation and the Court.”51
Integrity and Impartiality
Closely related to the expectation that a Supreme Court nominee have excel ent professional
qualifications are the ideals of integrity and impartiality in a nominee. Most Presidents
presumably wil be aware of the historical expectation, dating back to Alexander Hamilton’s
pronouncements in the Federalist Papers, that a Justice be a person of integrity who is able to
approach cases and controversies impartial y, without personal prejudice.52 In that same spirit, a
bipartisan study commission on judicial selection in 1996 declared that it was “most important” to
appoint judges who were not only learned in the law and conscientious in their work ethic but
who also possessed “what lawyers describe as ‘judicial temperament.’” This term, the
commission explained, “essential y has to do with a personality that is evenhanded, unbiased,
impartial, courteous yet firm, and dedicated to a process, not a result.”53 Accordingly, Presidents
sometimes wil cite the integrity or fairness of Supreme Court nominees to buttress the case for
their appointment to the Court.54
Other Factors
Any given President also might single out other qualities as particularly important for a Supreme
Court nominee to have, as President Barack Obama did in 2009, when announcing his nomination
of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Court. In prefatory remarks to that announcement, President
Obama cited selection criteria similar to those mentioned by other recent Presidents, such as
“mastery of the law,” the “ability to hone in on the key issues and provide clear answers to
complex legal questions,” and “a commitment to impartial justice.”

51 Watson and Stookey, Shaping America, p. 64. Recently, for example, prior to the 2016 general election, Donald
T rump released a list of individuals he would consider nominating, if elected, to the Supreme Court. He stated “T hese
individuals were selected, first and foremost, based on constitutional principles, with input from respected conservative
leaders.” Donald J. T rump for President, press release, September 23, 2016, available at
https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-adds-to-list-of-potential-supreme-court-justice-picks.
52 In Federalist Paper 78 (“Judges as Guardians of the Constitution”), Hamilton extolled the “benefits of the integrity
and moderation of the Judiciary,” which, he said, commanded “the esteem and applause of all the virtuous and
disinterested.” Further, he maintained, there could “be but few men” in society who would “unite the requisite integrity
with the requisit e knowledge” to “ qualify them for the stations of judges.” Wright, The Federalist, p. 495 (first quote)
and p. 496 (second quote).
53 Miller Center of Public Affairs, Improving the Process of Appointing Federal Judges: A Report of the Miller Center
Com m ission on the Selection of Federal Judges
(Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia, May 1996), p. 10.
54 In 2005, for example, in announcing the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to be an Associate Justice, President
George W. Bush said he was confident that the Senate would be impressed not only by Judge Alito’s “ distinguished
record” but also by his “measured judicial temperament and his tremendous personal integrity.” U.S. President (Bush,
George W.), “Remarks Announcing the Nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr., T o Be an Associate Justice of the United
States Supreme Court,” Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 41, November 7, 2005, p. 1626. In
describing Merrick Garland, President Obama stated that Judge Garland “ brings to his work a spirit of decency,
modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence.” U.S. President (Obama), “ Remarks by the President Announcing
Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court,” March 16, 2016, Office of the Press Secretary, T he
White House. A recent nominee to the Court, Neil Gorsuch, was described by President T rump as having been “ taught
the value of independence, hard work and public service.” U.S. President (T rump), “Full T ranscript and Video: T rump
Picks Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court,” New York Times, January 31, 2017.
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He added, however, that such qualities, while “essential” for anyone sitting on the Supreme
Court, “alone are insufficient,” and that “[w]e need something more.”55 An additional requisite
quality, President Obama said, was “experience,” which he explained was
Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune, experience
insisting, persisting, and ultimately, overcoming those barriers. It is experience that can
give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the
world works and how ordinary people live. And that is why it is a necessary ingredient in
the kind of Justice we need on the Supreme Court.56
A President, as wel , may consider additional factors when the Supreme Court vacancy to be
fil ed is that of the Chief Justice. Besides requiring that a candidate be political y acceptable, have
excel ent legal qualifications, and enjoy a reputation for integrity, a President might be concerned
that his nominee have proven leadership qualities necessary to effectively perform the tasks
specific to the position of Chief Justice. Such leadership qualities, in the President’s view, could
include administrative and human relations skil s, with the latter especial y important in fostering
collegiality among the Court’s members.57
The President also might look for distinction or eminence in a Chief Justice nominee sufficient to
command the respect of the Court’s other Justices, as wel as to further public respect for the
Court. A President, too, might be concerned with the age of the Chief Justice nominee, requiring,
for instance, that the nominee be at least of a certain age (to insure an adequate degree of maturity
and experience relative to the other Justices) but not above a certain age (to al ow for the likely
ability to serve as a leader on the Court for a substantial number of years).58
Background Investigations
An important part of the selection process involves investigating the background of prospective
nominees. In recent years the investigative effort general y has followed two primary tracks—one
concerned with the public record and professional credentials of a person under consideration, the
other with the candidate’s private background. The private background investigation, which
includes examination of a candidate’s personal financial affairs, is conducted by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The investigation into a candidate’s public record and professional

55 U.S. President (Obama, Barack H.), “Remarks on the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor T o Be a Supreme Court
Associate Justice,” Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, May 26, 2009, DCPD-200900402, p. 1.
56 Ibid. President Obama’s announcement of his nomination of Merrick Garland included similar statements about the
need for a certain type of experience beyond a nominee’s outstanding legal qualifications. President Obama stated “At
the same time, Chief Judge Garland is more than just a brilliant legal mind. He’s someone who has a keen
understanding that justice is about more than abstract legal theory; more than some footnote in a dusty casebook. His
life experience ... informs his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise. He understands the way law
affects the daily reality of people’s lives.” U.S. President (Obama), “Remarks by the President Announcing Judge
Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court,” March 16, 2016, Office of the Press Secretary, T he Wh ite
House.
57 See, for example, Greenburg, Supreme Conflict, pp. 238-243 (discussing the assessment of the Administration of
President George W. Bush in 2005 that John G. Roberts’s leadership abilities and interpersonal skills were important
qualities needed in a person under consideration for appointment to be Chief Justice).
58 T he selection of Earl Warren for Chief Justice by President Eisenhower, for example, was due in part to Mr.
Warren’s relatively young age (62) at the time of appointment. According t o one report, President Eisenhower
indicated “that he had been looking over other [potential nominees], but felt they were too old for the post. Naturally,
he said, he wanted a man who was healthy, strong, who had not had any serious illnesses, and who was relatively
young.” Edward T . Folliard, “Ike Names Warren to High Bench,” The Washington Post, October 1, 1953, p. 2, col. 1.
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abilities ordinarily is headed by high Justice Department officials, White House aides, or both,
working together.
The investigative process may be preliminary in nature when the objective is to identify potential
candidates and consider their relative merits based on information already known or readily
available. The investigations become more intensive as the initial list is narrowed. The object then
becomes to learn as much as possible about the prospective nominees—to accurately gauge their
qualifications and their compatibility with the President’s specific requirements for a nominee,
and, simultaneously, to flag anything in their backgrounds that might be disqualifying or
jeopardize their chances for Senate confirmation. For help in evaluating the backgrounds of Court
candidates, Presidents sometimes also have enlisted the assistance of private lawyers,59 legal
scholars,60 or, on rare occasions, the American Bar Association (ABA).61 Near the culmination of
this investigative effort, the President might want to personal y meet with one or more of the
candidates before final y deciding whom to nominate.62
During the prenomination phase, Presidents vary in the degree to which they publicly reveal the
names of individuals under consideration for the Court. Sometimes, Presidents seek to keep
confidential the identity of their Court candidates. Such secrecy may al ow a President to reflect
on the qualifications of prospective nominees, and the background investigations to proceed,
away from the glare of publicity, news media coverage, and outside political pressures. Other
times, the White House may, at least in the early prenomination stage, reveal the names of
Supreme Court candidates being considered. Such openness may be intended to serve various
purposes—among them, to test public or congressional reaction to potential nominees, please

59 Perhaps the most extensive use of private attorneys for this purpose was made by President Clinton in the spring of
1993 during his consideration of candidates to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Byron White. President
Clinton, it was reported, utilized a team of 75 lawyers in the Washington, DC, area, who “pore[d] over briefs,”
analyzed “mountains of opinions and speeches” and “comb[ed] through financial records,” of the “final contenders” for
the Court appointment—from whom the President ultimately selected U.S. appellate court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
T he team funneled their analyses to the White House counsel, “ who, along with other aides, advised the president
during the search for a justice.” Under the team’s ground rules, its work was performed on a confidential basis, with
contact between its lawyers and White House aides prohibited. Private attorneys were re lied on in this way at least
partly because, at that early point in the Clinton presidency, a judicial search team for the Administration was not yet in
place in the Department of Justice. Daniel Klaidman, “Who Are Clinton’s Vetters, and Why the Big Secret ?” Legal
Tim es
, vol. 16, June 21, 1993, pp. 1, 22-23.
60 “During President Gerald R. Ford’s search to fill a high court vacancy, Attorney General Edward Levi discreetly
asked a small group of distinguished constitutional scholars to review opinions and othe r legal writings of a number of
candidates.” Ibid. (Klaidman), p. 23.
61 T hree Presidents—Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, Richard M. Nixon in 1971, and Gerald R. Ford in 1975 —
requested the ABA’s Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary to evaluate the names of prospective Supreme Court
candidates. T ypically, however, the ABA committee is not invited by an Administration to evaluate candidates under
consideration for nomination to the Court. Instead, the committee performs its evaluation role later, after the Pr esident
has selected a nominee, providing its evaluation of the nominee to the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the start of
confirmation hearings. See generally CRS Report 96 -446, The Am erican Bar Association’s Standing Com m ittee on
Federal Judiciary: A Historical Overview
, by Denis Steven Rutkus (out of print, available to congressional clients upon
request from author; hereinafter cited as CRS Report 96-446, ABA Historical Overview), for a narrative tracing the
evolution of the ABA committee’s role from the 1940s to 1995, and specifically pp. 8-9, 31-32, and 35 regarding its
role in advising Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford, respectively.
62 It has not been uncommon, at least during recent times, for a President to personally interview their final candidate s
before selecting a nominee. For example, President G.W. Bush interviewed five potential nominees to replace Sandra
Day O’Connor.” Greenburg, Supreme Conflict, p. 314. Similarly, Elena Kagan, nominated to the Court in 2010 by
President Obama, was reportedly one of four candidates whom the President interviewed (and “ was one of Mr.
Obama’s runners-up” the year before when he nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Court). Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny,
The New York Tim es, May 10, 2010, p. 1.
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political constituencies who would identify with identified candidates, or demonstrate the
President’s determination to conduct a comprehensive search for the most qualified person
available.
An Administration, of course, need not wait until a vacancy occurs on the Court to begin
investigating the backgrounds of potential nominees. Immediately after President George W.
Bush was sworn into office in 2001, according to a book on Supreme Court nominations, “his
staff began putting together a list of potential nominees and conducting extensive background
research on them.” The book continued:
Officials believed [Chief Justice William H.] Rehnquist was likely to retire in the summer
of 2001, and they were determined to be ready. Each young lawyer in the White House
counsel’s office, most of whom had clerked on the Supreme Court, was assigned a
candidate and made responsible for writing a lengthy report about him or her. In the late
spring, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez and his deputy Tim Flanigan began
secretly interviewing some of those possible replacements.
The advance work was designed to ensure that George W. Bush would be prepared when a Justice
stepped down. The early in-depth research and interviews with prospective nominees were
reportedly important in ensuring Bush would have coolheaded advice, removed from any external
political pressure to select a particular nominee in the hours after a retirement.63
Speed by Which a President Selects a Nominee
Figure 2
shows the number of days that elapsed between the date on which it was publicly
known that a Justice was leaving the Court (due to retirement or death) and the date on which the
President publicly identified a nominee to replace the departing Justice.64 Note that the figure
only shows those vacancies on the Court, since 1975, which required only a single nomination to
be fil ed. Consequently, for example, the vacancy created by the death of Justice Scalia is not
included in Figure 2 (since more than one nomination was made to fil it).
Overal , for the 13 vacancies included in Figure 2, approximately 19 days, on average, elapsed
between the date on which it was publicly known that a Justice was leaving the Court and the date
on which the President publicly identified a nominee to replace the Justice. For the same 13
vacancies, the median length of time between the two dates was 12 days.
For the most recent vacancy, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett 8 days after
the vacancy was created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

63 Greenburg, Supreme Conflict, p. 241.
64 T here is no constitutional requirement that a departing Justice give the President advance notice of his or her
intention to step down from the Court. Nonetheless, a President sometimes learns in advance from a Justice that he or
she plans to publicly announce, on a future date, that he or she is leaving the Court. For example, Justice Harry A.
Blackmun told President Clinton through an informal conversation of his decision to retire more than four months
before the Justice’s decision became public on April 6, 1994. In contrast, Justice O’Connor did not appear to have
given President G.W. Bush any advance notice when she publicly announced her retirement via formal letter on July 1,
2005. Although some Presidents learn in advance of a Justice’s intention to retire or resign, the dates used in the
calculations for Figure 2 are those in which it was publicly known that a Justice was stepping down from the Court (or
departing the Court as a result of his or her death). Additionally, the date a President publicly announced whom he
intended to nominate to replace a departing Justice might be different from the date that the nominee’s nomination was
formally submitted by the President to the Senate. For the purposes of this report, the date a President publicly
announced whom he intends to nominate, rather than the date the nomination was formally submitted to the Senate, is
used as the end point in measuring the number of days it has taken for a President to select a nominee.
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For the seven Justices currently serving on the Court who are included in Figure 2, the average
number of days from a vacancy occurring to a President’s public announcement of his or her
nomination to the Court was 17 days (with a median of 12 days).
Figure 2. Number of Days from Vacancy Announcement of Departing Justice to
President’s Public Announcement Identifying Nominee for Vacancy
(Vacancies Since 1975 That Required Only One Nomination Prior To Being Fil ed)

Source: Congressional Research Service.
Notes: This figure shows, for select vacancies since the Gerald Ford presidency, the number of days that
elapsed from the public vacancy announcement of a departing Justice to the President’s public announcement
identifying his nominee for the vacancy. The figure does not include three vacancies during this period that
required multiple nominations by a President in order for the vacancy to be fil ed—specifical y, the vacancies
created by the departures of Justice Lewis Powel , Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and Justice Antonin Scalia (see
the text of the report for additional information).
For the purposes of this report, if a Justice died while serving on the Court, the date of his or her death is
treated as the date on which a vacancy was publicly known or announced.
* John G. Roberts Jr. was initial y nominated to the judgeship being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
President G.W. Bush nominated Mr. Roberts 18 days after Justice O’Connor submitted her retirement letter to
the President. Fol owing the death of Chief Justice Wil iam Rehnquist, the Roberts nomination was withdrawn by
President Bush and Mr. Roberts was subsequently renominated by President Bush to replace Chief Justice
Rehnquist. Mr. Roberts was renominated 2 days after Chief Justice Rehnquist’s death.
** Wil iam Rehnquist, who was already serving on the Court as an Associate Justice, was nominated by President
Reagan to serve as the new Chief Justice once Chief Justice Burger stepped down from the Court. Justice
Rehnquist’s elevation to the Chief Justice position would itself create a vacancy for an Associate Justice, to which
Mr. Scalia was nominated.
There has been variation in the length of time between when it was known there was or would be
a vacancy on the Court and when a President publicly announced his intention to nominate a
particular individual for the vacancy. For example, when a Justice steps down from the Court65 or
dies while in office, Presidents sometimes move relatively quickly, selecting their nominee within

65 In some cases a Justice may not step down immediately but instead announce his or her intention to step down on a
specified date in the future.
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a week of the vacancy being announced. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, for instance,
selected most of their Supreme Court nominees within days of the vacating Justices publicly
announcing their retirements from the Court.66
President Clinton, in contrast, took more time in selecting his two Supreme Court nominees,
nominating Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 22, 1993, nearly three months after the retirement
announcement of Justice Byron R. White, and nominating Stephen G. Breyer on May 17, 1994,
approximately five weeks after the retirement announcement of Justice Harry A. Blackmun.
Likewise, President George W. Bush’s first two Supreme Court selections were not made
immediately upon the heels of a Justice’s retirement announcement: President Bush announced
his choice of John G. Roberts Jr. to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor 18 days after she submitted
her retirement letter to the President, and he announced his choice of Harriet E. Miers to succeed
Justice O’Connor 28 days after withdrawing the aforementioned Roberts nomination.67 President
Bush did, however, move much more swiftly in selecting a nominee to succeed Chief Justice
Wil iam H. Rehnquist, announcing his choice of John G. Roberts Jr. for that office two days after
the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist on September 3, 2005.68
President Obama’s three Supreme Court selections were made within approximately one month
of an incumbent Justice departing the Court. He selected Sonia Sotomayor 25 days after Justice
David Souter announced he was leaving the Court; Elena Kagan 31 days after Justice Stevens
announced his retirement; and Merrick Garland 32 days following the death of Justice Scalia.
President Trump, in contrast to his immediate predecessor (President Obama), announced each of
his nominations to the Court within two weeks of a vacancy occurring (or, in the case of the
Scalia vacancy, within two weeks of assuming office in 2017). President Trump announced the
nomination of Brett Kavanaugh 12 days after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement
from the Court and announced the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett 8 days after Justice Ruth
Bader Ginsburg’s death created a vacancy on the Court. Similarly, President Trump announced

66 In a “surprise announcement” on June 17, 1986, President Reagan announced the retirement of Chief Justice Warren
Burger, as well as his selection of Associate Justice William Rehnquist as Burger’s replacement, and his intention to
nominate, upon Rehnquist’s confirmation as Chief Justice, Judge Anton in Scalia as an Associate Justice. Elder Witt,
“Rehnquist to Be Chief Justice, Reagan Names Scalia to Court,” Congressional Quarterly, June 21, 1986, p. 1399. Of
the vacancies included in Figure 2, this is the only instance of an anticipated future vacancy on the Court being
publicly announced on the same date as a President announcing his nominee for that same vacancy.
President G.H.W. Bush took only several days to announce nominees to fill the two vacancies that occurred during his
presidency. According to one source, “in Souter, the president saw a perfect nominee for the times: a brilliant jurist
who represented the best of American virtues and exhibit ed no vices or controversial positions on judicial issues....
Souter’s obscurity became the deciding factor in his favor and gave him the nod over Jones, [another finalist] whose
opinions on the federal bench were more controversial. With a stunned candidate at his side, Bush announced Souter’s
nomination on the same day he met him for the first time, a mere seventy -two hours after Brennan announced his
retirement from the bench.” Perry and Abraham, Oral History to Oral Argument, pp. 172-73.
As for the nomination of Clarence T homas, Judge T homas had been included on the list of potential nominees for the
Brennan vacancy (to which Souter was nominated)—this may have contributed to the speed by which he was
nominated for the Marshall vacancy. As recounted by former attorney general T hornburg, by the time a second vacancy
occurred, Judge T homas “had a degree of seasoning on the D.C. Circuit ... we [the selection team] went through the
usual suspects and I think the consensus was that Clarence was the choice. ” Ibid., p. 175.
67 T he vacancy created by the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor is not included in Figure 2. T he O’Connor vacancy
was one of three Supreme Court vacancies since 1975 that required multiple nominations for the vacancy to be filled.
See the text below the figure for a discussion of the O’Connor vacancy.
68 Likewise, as discussed in the text below, President G.W. Bush moved swiftly in selecting a third nominee to succeed
Justice O’Connor, announcing his choice of Samuel A. Alito Jr. for that office on October 31, 2005, four days after the
Miers nomination to that office was withdrawn.
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the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fil the vacancy on the Court created by the death of Justice
Antonin Scalia 11 days after assuming office on January 20, 2017.
Vacancies That Have Had Multiple Nominations
As noted previously, Figure 2 includes only those vacancies on the Court, occurring since 1975,
that did not have multiple nominations by a President in order for the vacancy to be fil ed.
Specifical y, since 1975, there have been three vacancies on the Court that had more than one
nomination by a President in order for the vacancy to be fil ed—the most recent being the
vacancy created on the Court by the death of Justice Scalia.
The Powell Vacancy
The first vacancy during this period that had multiple nominations was the vacancy created by the
departure of Justice Lewis Powel in 1987. President Reagan first nominated Robert Bork, an
appel ate judge on the D.C. Circuit, to fil the vacancy; Judge Bork was nominated five days after
Justice Powel announced his retirement. The Bork nomination was ultimately rejected by the
Senate and, as a result, President Reagan announced his intention to nominate Douglas H.
Ginsburg, another appel ate judge on the D.C. Circuit. President Reagan announced his intention
to nominate Judge Ginsburg six days after the Bork nomination was rejected by the Senate. Judge
Ginsburg was never formal y nominated, and four days later Mr. Ginsburg withdrew his name
from consideration,69 President Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy (whose nomination was
ultimately approved by the Senate).
Altogether, a total of 138 days, or approximately 4.5 months, elapsed from Justice Powel
announcing his retirement to President Reagan nominating Anthony Kennedy to the vacancy.70
The O’Connor Vacancy
The second vacancy that had multiple nominations to be fil ed was the vacancy created by the
retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Eighteen days elapsed from Justice O’Connor’s
announcement that she would step down from the Court (contingent upon the confirmation of her
successor) to President G.W. Bush’s nomination of John Roberts Jr. to replace her. The Roberts
nomination was later withdrawn by the President (in order for Mr. Roberts to be re-nominated to
fil the vacancy in the Chief Justice position arising from Justice Rehnquist’s death); 28 days after
the withdrawal of the Roberts nomination, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace
Justice O’Connor. The Miers nomination was later withdrawn by the President and four days later
he nominated Samuel Alito (whose nomination was confirmed by the Senate).
Altogether, a total of 122 days, or approximately 4 months, elapsed from Justice O’Connor’s
announcement that she intended to retire to President G.W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito.

69 After it was disclosed that Judge Ginsburg occasionally smoked marijuana while a college student in the 1960s and
on a few occasions in the 1970s, Judge Ginsburg requested that his nomination be withdrawn. George Archibald and
Mary Belcher, “Ginsburg Confesses He Used Marijuana,” The Washington Post, November 6, 1987. See also Steven
V. Roberts, “Ginsburg Withdraws Name As Supreme Court Nominee, Citing Marijuana ‘Clamor,’” The New York
Tim es
, November 8, 1987.
70 T his total includes any days in which the Bork nomination was pending, as well as days in which the prosp ective
nomination of Judge Ginsburg was pending prior to the Kennedy nomination.
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The Scalia Vacancy
The third vacancy during this period that had more than one nomination prior to the appointment
of a new Justice is the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13,
2016. In contrast to the Powel and O’Connor vacancies discussed above, this is the sole vacancy
during this period for which nominations to the Court wil have been made by two different
Presidents. Specifically, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland on March 16, 2016 (32
days after Justice Scalia’s death). The Garland nomination was not acted upon by the Senate
during the second session of the 114th Congress and was returned to the President on January 3,
2017.71 The Garland nomination was pending before the Senate for a total of 293 days, or
approximately 10 months, prior to being returned to the President.
On January 31, 2017, President Trump, 11 days after he assumed office on January 20, 2017,
announced his intention to nominate Neil Gorsuch to fil the vacancy created by the death of
Justice Scalia.72
Factors Affecting the Speed by Which a Nominee Is Selected
Advance Notice of Vacancy
A President may be wel positioned to make a quick announcement when a retiring Justice alerts
the President beforehand (thus giving the President lead time, before the vacancy occurs, to
consider whom to nominate as a successor).73 Even when receiving no advance warning from an
outgoing Justice, the President may already have in hand a “short list,” prepared precisely for the
event of a Court vacancy, of persons already evaluated and acceptable to the President for the
appointment.74
Strong Preference of President
If the President has a strong personal preference for a particular individual,75 nominating the
person quickly preempts the issue of whether someone else should be nominated. Rather than

71 Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, stated, on February 13, 2016, that “the American people
should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. T herefore, this vacancy should not be filled
until we have a new President.” Consequently, the Senate did not act on the Garland nomination. See Senator
McConnell, “Justice Antonin Scalia,” Press Release, February 13, 2016. In contrast, Senat or Harry Reid argued that,
the decision not to consider President Obama’s nominee amounted to a “full-blown effort to delegitimize President
Barack Obama, the presidency, and undermine our basic system of checks and balances.” See Alan Fram, Associated
Press, “ T he Senate’s top Democrat says Republicans are trying to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency by trying to
prevent him from filling the Supreme Court vacancy,” U.S. News & World Report, February 22, 2016.
72 T he Associated Press, “T rump T aps Conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court,” The New York Times,
January 31, 2017, at https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/01/31/us/politics/ap-us-trump-supreme-court.html.
73 Alternatively, as in the case of President T rump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch, the vacancy existed for a period of
time prior to an individual being elected President —thus, giving a potential President lead time in terms of whom to
consider for a vacancy on the Court.
74 According to one account, for example, the selection process for a possible vacancy occurring during the Obama
presidency “got its start in the weeks after Mr. Obama’s election [in 2008] when he gathered advisers in a conference
room in downtown Chicago one day. T he court was on his mind. ‘Just because we don’t have a vacancy right now
doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it,’ he told the group, according to participants. ‘T he day we get a vacancy, we
want to have a short list of people ready.’” Peter Baker and Adam Nagourn ey, “Sotomayor Pick a Product of Lessons
From Past Battles,” The New York Times, May 28, 2009, at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/us/politics/
28select.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
75 For example, following Justice Souter’s retirement announcement, President Obama “from the beginning ... had been
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focus on a range of individuals who should be considered for the Supreme Court, the appointment
process moves to the next major stage, to the question of whether that individual should be
confirmed.
Sense of Urgency
Presidents also might be moved to nominate quickly in order to minimize the time during which
there is a vacancy on the Court. If an actual vacancy is suddenly created—for example, due to an
unexpected retirement, resignation, or death of a Justice—a President, as wel as Senators, might
be eager to bring the Court back to full strength as soon as possible. A similar sense of urgency
might be felt if a Justice has announced the intention to step down from the Court by a date
certain in the near future.
Most recently, the length of time between the date of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the
date of the 2020 presidential election likely contributed to a sense of urgency to fil the vacancy
created by Ginsburg’s death. Specifical y, Judge Amy Coney Barrett was selected relatively
quickly as the nominee for the Ginsburg vacancy (i.e., eight days from the vacancy occurring to
Judge Barret’s selection). Along these lines, it was reported that the Republican majority leader’s
goal was to have the Barret nomination approved “by late October.”76
When Vacancy Occurs
The speed with which a President chooses a nominee also, as noted above, can be affected by
when a seat on the Court is vacated. Sometimes, Justices might announce their retirement when
the Court recesses for the summer, in late June or early July, giving the President little or no
advance notice. In such situations, a President might decide to nominate quickly, to al ow the
Senate confirmation process to begin as quickly as possible. A swiftly made nomination, in such a
circumstance, affords the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate as long as three months
(July through September) in which to consider the nomination before the start of the Court’s term
in early October, thereby increasing the chances of the Court being at full nine-member strength
when it reconvenes.
Sometimes, when Justices give advance notice of their intention to retire, Presidents might be
under relatively little pressure to nominate quickly. In the spring of 1993, for example, Justice
Byron R. White announced he would step down when the Court adjourned for the summer. His
advance notice gave President Clinton and the Senate together more than six months in which,
respectively, to nominate and confirm a successor before the beginning of the Court’s next term
in October. A year later, in the spring of 1994, Justice Harry A. Blackmun announced his intention
to retire at the end of the Court term then in progress, again affording the President and the Senate
ample time to appoint a successor to a retiring Justice before the start of the next Court term.77

focused on Judge [Sonia] Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge from New York. She had a compelling life stor y,
Ivy League credentials and a track record on the bench .... And by the time the [appointment] opportunity arrived, it
became her nomination to lose.” Ibid.
76 See Sarah Binder, “Yes, Senate Republicans could still confirm Barrett before the election, ” Washington Post,
October 5, 2020, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/10/05/yes-senate-republicans-could-still-confirm-
barrett -before-election/
77 Justice Blackmun reportedly had given even more advance notice to the President, having privately informed him, on
or about January 1, 1994, of his intention to retire before the start of the next Court term in October 1994. See Douglas
Jehl, “Mitchell Viewed as T op Candidate for High Court,” The New York Times, April 7, 1994, p. A1; T ony Mauro,
“How Blackmun Hid Retirement Plans,” New Jersey Law Journal, April 25, 1994, p. 18, at http://www.nexis.com.
Later, on the eve of his public retirement announcement, on April 6, 1994, Justice Blackmun was reported to have told
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Despite the long lead time afforded by Justice Blackmun’s announcement, however, White House
advisers reportedly believed it was “important to act quickly” to name a successor to Blackmun.
To move quickly, it was reported, would serve to “avoid a repeat of the [previous] year’s drawn
out process” in which President Clinton engaged in a “very public, three-month search” before
nominating Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Court.78 After Justice Blackmun’s announcement,
President Clinton deliberated five weeks before announcing, on May 13, 1994, his selection of
U.S. appel ate court judge Stephen G. Breyer to be his Supreme Court nominee.
President Barack Obama also was provided considerable advance notice of an upcoming Court
vacancy when Justice David H. Souter informed the President by letter on May 1, 2009, of his
intention to step down when the Court recessed for the summer (the Court went into summer
recess on June 29). Three and a half weeks later, on May 26, President Obama announced his
intention to nominate a U.S. appel ate judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to succeed Justice Souter. The
selection by President Obama was, on the one hand, not as quickly made as some of the nominee
selections of Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. On the other hand,
President Obama took less time than President Clinton did in making his three Court selections.
During the 25 days between Justice Souter’s retirement notice and the selection of Judge
Sotomayor, President Obama had enough time, in his words, to seek “the advice of Members of
Congress on both sides of the aisle, including every member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee.”79 That he did not take additional time to decide whom to select might have been
influenced by a concern for al owing the Senate to begin considering a Court nomination as soon
as possible. The President and some Senate Democrats expressed the hope that the Senate would
vote to confirm Judge Sotomayor not merely before the start of the Court’s term in October, but
before the Senate’s August 2009 recess, in order to afford time for her to prepare for that term.80
(The Senate ultimately confirmed the Sotomayor nomination on August 6, 2009.)81
Presidents also may have considerable latitude in deciding when to nominate if an outgoing
Justice schedules his or her retirement to take effect only when a successor is confirmed or
assumes office. The most recent instance of that occurred when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in
a July 1, 2005, letter to President George W. Bush, announced her decision to retire from the
Court “effective upon the nomination and confirmation” of her successor.82 At the announcement
of Justice O’Connor’s retirement, President Bush declared he would “choose a nominee in a
timely manner” so that the nominee would receive a Senate hearing and confirmation vote
“before the new Supreme Court term begins.”83 Within three weeks he announced his selection of

friends “he wanted to make sure there would be ample time for a successor to be confirmed by the Senate and prepare
for the start of a new term in October.” Ruth Marcus, “Blackmun Set T o Leave High Court,” The Washington Post,
April 6, 1994, p. A1.
78 Ibid. (Marcus), pp. A1, A7.
79 U.S. President (Obama, Barack H.), “Remarks on the Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor T o Be a Supreme Court
Associate Justice,” Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, May 26, 2009, DCPD-200900402, p. 1.
80 See CRS Report RL33118, Speed of Presidential and Senate Actions on Supreme Court Nomina tions, 1900-2010, by
R. Sam Garrett and Denis Steven Rutkus (under heading “ Activity During 2009”).
81 A year later, President Obama was provided even more advance notice of an upcoming Court vacancy when Justice
John Paul Stevens, in an April 9, 2010, letter, informed the President of his intention to step down when the Court
recessed for the summer. President Obama announced his selection of a nominee to succeed Justice Stevens, Elena
Kagan, on May 10, 2010, taking 31 days to make and announce his select ion (compared with the 25 days taken the year
before to make and announce his selection of Sonia Sotomayor to succeed outgoing Justice Souter).
82 Sandra Day O’Connor, letter to President George W. Bush, July 1, 2005, available at
http://www.supremecourtus.gov/publicinfo/press/pr_07-01-05.html.
83 U.S. President (Bush, George W.), “Resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor from the Supreme Court of the
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John G. Roberts Jr. to succeed Justice O’Connor.84 The conditional nature of Justice O’Connor’s
planned retirement, however, meant that her seat on the Court would be occupied when the Court
convened for its October 2005 term, whether or not her successor were confirmed by then.
Ultimately, Justice O’Connor remained on the Court for four months of the new Court term,
retiring only on January 31, 2006, when the third person nominated by President Bush to succeed
her, Samuel A. Alito Jr., was confirmed by the Senate. During the months that Justice O’Connor
remained on the Court, awaiting the confirmation of her successor, the Associate Justice
nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. was withdrawn so that President Bush could nominate Roberts
to be Chief Justice (following the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist on September 3, 2005); a
second nomination to succeed Justice O’Connor, that of White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers,
was made, only to be withdrawn three weeks later; and, on November 10, 2005, a third person,
Samuel A. Alito Jr., was nominated to succeed Justice O’Connor. For a President, the need to
select an Associate Justice nominee might be seen as less urgent than the appointment of a Chief
Justice, particularly if, as was the case in 2005, the Chief Justice position is actual y vacant and
the Associate Justice vacancy is not actual, but prospective.
Potential Drawbacks of Quickly Selecting a Nominee
Selecting a Supreme Court nominee relatively quickly, however, may sometimes have drawbacks.
A President may be accused of charging ahead with a nominee without having first adequately
consulted with the Senate, or without having taken the time necessary to determine who real y
would make the best nominee—either in terms of the nominee’s professional qualifications or
ideological disposition.85 Also, quick announcements might not al ow time for the FBI to conduct
a comprehensive background investigation prior to nomination, leaving open the possibility of
unfavorable information about the nominee coming to light later.86

United States,” Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 41, July 4, 2005, p. 1108.
84 While President Bush announced his selection of Roberts to be an Associate Justice nominee on July 19, 2005, he
formally transmitted his nomination of Roberts to the Senate 10 days later.
85 President G.W. Bush, for example, faced criticism for his selection of Harriet Miers to fill the vacancy created by
Justice O’Connor’s retirement. Prior to Ms. Miers’s request that her nomination be withdrawn, there had been
“increasingly heated debate over the depth of her conservative beliefs and her qualifications,” and her nomination “had
been severely criticized by senators of all political stripes—by conservatives who doubted her commitment to their
cause, especially her feelings about abortion, and by moderates and liberals, who said they knew too little about her,
especially since she had never been a judge.” David Stout and T imothy Williams, “Miers Ends Supreme Court Bid
After Failing to Win Support,” The New York Times, October 27, 2005, at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/27/
politics/politicsspecial1/27cnd-scotus.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
86 It is “precisely when president s fail to require thorough checks,” two scholars have written, “that trouble is likely.”
As illustrative, they cite the FBI investigation of President Richard M. Nixon’s Supreme Court nominee Clement F.
Haynsworth Jr. in 1969. “Unfortunately for both Haynsworth and the president, the cursory FBI check left unrevealed
questions of financial dealings and conflicts of interest that would eventually doom the nomination. Without learning
from the first mistake, the Nixon Administration rushed headlong into anoth er hurried selection, Harrold Carswell,
without full knowledge of flaws that would prove fatal in his background. A similar failure occurred as the Reagan
Administration rushed to bring forth a nominee in the wake of the Bork defeat. In this instance, the rushed investigation
failed to uncover the marijuana episodes of Douglas Ginsburg, which led to another presidential setback in the
appointment process.” Watson and Stookey, Shaping America, p. 82. More recently, a supplemental background
investigation bv the FBI occurred during the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Court after the Senate had already
started its consideration of the nomination. Noor Wazwaz et al., “T rump Orders Limited FBI Investigation T o
Supplement Kavanaugh Background Check,” National Public Radio, September 28, 2018, at https://www.npr.org/
2018/09/28/652486413/judiciary-committee-set-to-vote-on-kavanaugh-friday-with-eyes-on-undecided-jeff. Prior to
Senate consideration of the nomination, President Trump had “moved quickly to select his nominee [Kavanaugh], just
12 days after Kennedy announced his retirement.” Scott Horsley, “ Trump T aps Brett Kavanaugh As His 2 nd Supreme
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Some nominees who were selected relatively quickly by a President were ultimately not approved
or considered by the Senate (for one or more of the reasons mentioned above). President Reagan,
for example, announced his intention to nominate Robert Bork five days after Justice Powel
announced his retirement. Six days after the Bork nomination failed in the Senate, President
Reagan subsequently announced his intention to nominate Douglas H. Ginsburg (who later asked
the President to withdraw his name from consideration for Powel ’s seat). But the relatively quick
selection of a nominee by a President does not necessarily mean that the nomination wil not be
approved by the Senate. David Souter, for example, was nominated three days after Justice
Brennan’s retirement was publicly announced (and Clarence Thomas was nominated four days
after Justice Marshal ’s retirement).
Recess Appointments to the Court
On 12 occasions (most of them in the 19th century), Presidents have made temporary
appointments to the Supreme Court without submitting nominations to the Senate. These
occurred when Presidents exercised their power under the Constitution to make “recess
appointments” when the Senate was not in session.87 Historical y, when recesses between sessions
of the Senate were much longer than they are today, recess appointments served the purpose of
averting long vacancies on the Court when the Senate was unavailable to confirm a President’s
appointees. The terms of these recess appointments, however, were limited, expiring at the end of
the next session of Congress (unlike the potential y lifetime appointments Court appointees
receive when nominated and then confirmed by the Senate). Despite the temporary nature of
these appointments, every person appointed during a recess of the Senate, except one, ultimately
received a later appointment to the Court after being nominated by the President and confirmed
by the Senate.88
Recess appointments, when they do occur, may cause controversy, in large part because they
bypass the Senate and its “advice and consent” role.89 The last President to make a recess
appointment to the Court was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Of the five persons whom he nominated to
the Court, three initial y received recess appointments and served as Justices before being
confirmed by the Senate—Earl Warren (as Chief Justice) in 1953, Wil iam Brennan in 1956, and
Potter Stewart in 1958.90

Court Pick,” NPR, July 9, 2018, at https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/624727227/trump-to-name-his-second-supreme-
court -pick. Judge Kavanaugh was later confirmed by the Senate on October 6, 2018.
87 Specifically, Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution empowers the President “ to fill up all Vacancies
that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next
Session.”
88 For a list and discussion of the 12 recess appointments to the Court, see Henry B. Hogue, “T he Law: Recess
Appointments to Article III Courts,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, September 2004, pp. 656 -673. For more
information on judicial recess appointments, CRS Report RL31112, Recess Appointm ents of Federal Judges, by Louis
Fisher (out of print, available to congressional clients upon request from author).
89 T here was, for example, some opposition to the use of a recess appointment to seat Earl Warren as Chief Justice:
“Certain segments of the legal community felt strongly that the timing of [Warren’s] appointment, with Congress in
recess, was entirely inappropriate. T hese segments felt that the Constitution did not contemplate the seating of any
federal judge (especially the Chief Justice of the United States) in advance of Senate confirmation. T o be of another
opinion would surely result in the subjection of the nominee’s interim behavior to floor debates and committee scrutiny
that, in turn, would jeopardize his independence of action.” John P. Frank and Julie Zatz, “T he Appointment of Earl
Warren as Chief Justice of the United States,” Arizona State Law Journal, vol. 23, p. 731 (Fall 1991).
90 Following their recess appointments to the Court, Justices Warren and Brennan were later confirmed by the Senate
by voice vote (thus, there were no recorded “nays” in opposition to either nomination). Justice Stewart, h owever,
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Senate Resolution 334, 86th Congress
The Senate, on August 29, 1960, adopted S. Res. 334 “expressing the sense of the Senate that the
President should not make recess appointments to the Supreme Court, except to prevent or end a
breakdown in the administration of the Court’s business, and a recess appointee should not take
his seat on the Court until the Senate has ‘advised and consented’ to the nomination.”91 The
resolution was adopted by a vote of 48-37, largely along party lines.92
Senate proponents of the resolution contended, among other things, that judicial independence
would be affected if Supreme Court recess appointees, during the probationary period of their
appointment, took positions to please the President (in order not to have the President withdraw
their nominations) or to please the Senate (in order to gain confirmation of their nominations). It
also was argued that Senate investigation of nominations of these recess appointees was made
difficult by the oath preventing sitting Justices from testifying about matters pending before the
Court.93
Opponents, however, said, among other things, that the resolution was an attempt to restrict the
President’s constitutional recess appointment powers. Opponents also argued that recess
appointments were sometimes cal ed for in order to keep the Court at full strength to handle the
Court’s large and complex case load, as wel as to prevent evenly split rulings by its members.94
Additional y, opponents argued that the resolution “not only went beyond the ‘advise and
consent’ powers of Congress, but that it was a reflection against [Eisenhower], as wel as Chief
Justice Earl Warren, and Justices Wil iam J. Brennan Jr. and Potter Stewart, who were recess
appointees during the Eisenhower Administration.”95

received 17 nay votes at the time of his confirmation in 1959 (following his recess appointment in 1958). According to
one source, “all Senators who voted against the confirmation were Southern Democrats.... Southern opposition did not
center on St ewart directly but concentrated on such Southern concerns as the [1954] segregation decision and states’
rights, plus a belief that making recess appointments to important office lessened the Senate’s power to ‘advise and
consent.’” “1959 Presidential Nominations,” 1959 CQ Almanac (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1959), p. 664.
91 “Supreme Court Appointments,” Congressional Quarterly, September 2, 1960, p. 1520 (hereinafter cited as
“Supreme Court Appointments”).
92 Of Democratic Senators voting, 48 of 52 supported the resolution, while all 33 Republican Senators voting were
opposed. “Senate Adopts Foreign Aid, Medical Care Conference Reports; Increases Aid Amount on Supplemental;
Adopts Court Resolution,” Congressional Quarterly, September 2, 1960, p. 1540.
93 Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan, for example, argued that the Senate was “dreadfully handicapped” in considering
nominations to the Court that were the result of recess appointments. “Supreme Court Appointmen ts,” p. 1520.
94 “Opposition to Recess Appointments to the Supreme Court,” debate in Senate on S.Res. 334, Congressional Record,
vol. 106, August 29, 1960, pp. 18130 -18145. See also CRS Report RL31112, Recess Appointm ents of Federal Judges,
by Louis Fisher, pp. 16-18 (out of print, available to congressional clients upon request from author).
95 “Supreme Court Appointments,” p. 1520.
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Because of the criticisms of judicial recess appointments in recent decades, the long passage of
time since the last Supreme Court recess appointment in 1958, and the relatively short duration of
contemporary Senate recesses (which might diminish the need for recess appointments to the
Court), a President in the 21st century might hesitate to make a recess appointment to the Court
and do so only under unusual circumstances.96 Additional y, recent Supreme Court jurisprudence
involving the Recess Appointments Clause might, under certain circumstances, constitutional y
limit a President’s ability to make recess appointments to the Court.

Author Information

Barry J. McMillion

Analyst in American National Government


Acknowledgments
Denis Steven Rutkus, former Specialist on the Federal Judiciary, worked on a prior version of this report
and Amber Wilhelm, Visual Information Specialist in the Publishing and Editorial Resources Section of
CRS, worked on the figures included in this report.

Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
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copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.


96 A notable, relatively recent instance in which the possibility of a recess appointment to the Court was raised occurred
on July 28, 1987, when Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS) observed that President Reagan had the
constitutional prerogative to recess appoint U.S. appellate court judge Robert H. Bork to the Court. Earlier that month
Judge Bork had been nominated to the Court, and, at the time of Senator Dole’s statement, the chair of Senate Judiciary
Committee, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE), had scheduled confirmation hearings to begin on September 15. With
various Republican Senators accusing Senate Democrats of delaying the Bork hearings, Senator Dole offered as “ food
for thought” the possibility of President Reagan making a recess appointment of Judge Bork during Congress’s August
recess. Michael Fumento, “Reagan Has Power T o Seat Bork While Senate Stalls: Dole,” The Washington Times, July
28, 1987, p. A3; also, Edward Walsh, “Reagan’s Power T o Make Recess Appointment Is Noted,” The Washington
Post, July 28, 1987, p. A8. Judge Bork, however, did not receive a recess appointment and, as a Supreme Court
nominee, was rejected by the Senate in a 58-42 vote on October 23, 1987.
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