Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President, Judiciary Committee, and Senate Page: 4 of 74
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Supreme Court Appointment Process:
Roles of the President,
Judiciary Committee, and Senate
The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance
in American politics. Each appointment to the nine-member Court is significant
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," the time at which any given
appointment will be made to the Court is unpredictable. Appointments may be
infrequent (with a vacancy on the Court occurring only once or twice, or even never
at all, during a particular President's years in office)2 or occur in close proximity to
each other (with a particular President afforded several opportunities to name persons
to the Court).'
During President George W. Bush's first four years in office (2001-2004), no
vacancies occurred on the Court. In 2005, however, in the space of less than six
months, President Bush was presented with four opportunities to make Supreme
Court nominations in relation to two positions on the Court. First, on July 1, 2005,
Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in a letter to President Bush, announced
that, after almost 24 years as a Justice, she was retiring from the Court, "effective
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. (Hereafter cited as Supreme Court, Supreme Court of the United
2 Of the 42 individuals who have served as President of the United States, six made only one
Supreme Court nomination each, while three others were unable to make a single
nomination to the Court since no vacancies occurred on the Court during their presidencies.
See CRS Report RL33225, Supreme Court Nominations, 1789-2006: Actions by the Senate,
the Judiciary Committee, and the President, by Denis Steven Rutkus and Maureen Bearden
(under heading "Presidents Who Made the Nominations"). (Hereafter cited as CRS Report
RL33225, Supreme Court Nominations, 1789-2006.)
3 For instance, nine vacancies occurred on the Court during a five-and-a-half year period of
Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, with all of FDR's nine nominations to fill those
vacancies confirmed by the Senate. The President with the largest number of Supreme Court
confirmations in one term (apart from the first eight of George Washington's nominations
- all in his first term, and all confirmed) was William Howard Taft, who, during his four
years in office, made six Court nominations, all of which were confirmed by the Senate.
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Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President, Judiciary Committee, and Senate, report, March 20, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc810393/m1/4/: accessed April 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.