A History Lesson On Supreme Court Appointments

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Presidents have submitted just over 150 Supreme Court nominations to the Senate, and about 80% of the nominees have been confirmed. A closer look at the numbers shows that the odds of confirmation depend on some basic political facts. Not surprisingly, fewer nominees--less than 60%--get confirmed when the president's party does not control a majority in the Senate. By contrast, when the same party controls the White House and the Senate, the confirmation rate rises to over 85%.

Two other factors relate to the president's political strength. Professor John Maltese has calculated that when presidents make nominations during their last year in office, or when unelected presidents make nominations after ascending from the vice presidency, confirmation rates again drop below 60%.

All this bodes well for Judge Sotomayor, the nominee of a popular president just beginning his term whose party controls the Senate by a hefty margin. Here is more good news: After studying Supreme Court appointments since 1954, Professors Charles Cameron, Albert Cover and Jeffrey Segal found that "when a strong president nominates a highly qualified, ideological moderate candidate, the nominees passes the Senate in a lopsided, consensual vote."

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