How the Next Supreme Court Justice Will Be Chosen

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With Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, the nation will witness the first Supreme Court justice nomination in eleven years. The nomination process for Supreme Court justice splits the appointment responsibilities between President Bush and the Senate.

Since George Washington placed six justices on the first Supreme Court in 1789, there have been 142 presidential nominations. In 1869 Congress expanded the Supreme Court to its current roster of one chief justice and eight associate justices who each represent one regional circuit court.

Recent nominations include Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg under President Clinton. Robert H. Bork, who was nominated by President Reagan, was the last nominee to be rejected by the Senate. President Nixon had two nominees denied. The most recent contested nominee was Clarence Thomas who only received a 52-48 vote in 1991.

The politics surrounding a Supreme Court nominee can be incredibly complex. But the process for nominating and confirming Supreme Court justices is fairly straightforward. Here's how it works:


STEP ONE: The President selects a nominee

Nomination: The President announces a nomination to the Senate.

Nominee’s Paperwork: The nominee completes paperwork concerning finances and personal background.

FBI Investigation: The FBI probes the nominee’s criminal history, if any.

STEP TWO: The Senate confirms or rejects the nominee

Senate Confirmation Hearings: The nominee is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Eighteen senators interview the nominee. Topics include the nominee’s qualifications and previous casework. The committee also questions witnesses who support or oppose the nomination.

Committee Vote: The committee votes on the President’s nominee. No matter the vote’s outcome, the nominee is generally sent to the Senate floor after the committee hearings.

Senate Vote: The full Senate deliberates and then votes on the nominee. A simple majority (51 votes) confirms or rejects the nominee’s appointment.

If the nominee is confirmed, the Supreme Court justice is appointed for life.

If the nominee is rejected, the President chooses another and the process is repeated.


For more information:

Read the President’s and Senate’s roles as written in the Constitution: American Constitution

Visit the Supreme Court’s website for information on the current justices and recent federal cases: Supreme Court