How Does A Supreme Court Nomination Work?

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After 30 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday at the age of 79. Quickly after the news of his death, the question of finding his replacement became a political issue and caused Senate leaders and GOP presidential candidates to clash with the administration on what should happen next. Despite the partisan uproar, President Obama announced on Saturday night that he would move forward with finding a replacement. But how exactly does that work? For those of us who are little rusty on civics, here's a quick refresher on the process:

Step One: The President Selects A Nominee

According to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, presidents "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint...Judges of the Supreme Court..." That means that President Obama is obligated to select a nominee for the Supreme Court when a vacancy arises, even though it is an election year. After all, the process has gone forward during previous election years.

Step Two: The President Refers The Nominee To The Senate Judiciary Committee

Here's where checks and balances come into play. The Senate decides the fate of the president's nominee after they are put forward. The Senate Judiciary Committee sends the nominee a questionnaire. It's paperwork that requires information about the nominee's biographical, financial, and employment information. They also want copies of the nominee's legal writings, opinions issued, etc. Basically, think of it as the most intense background check, ever.

Step Three: The Senate Judiciary Committee Holds A Hearing

First, the nominee makes an opening statement to the committee. Then, Senators will question the nominee on his or her qualifications and previous casework. The committee will also bring in witnesses, who support or oppose the nomination, and ask them questions as well. These hearings can take several days and the questioning can be intense and pointedly partisan. After the hearing is completed, Committee members are given one week to submit written follow-up questions. The nominee submits written responses.

Senators who oppose the president's nominee may prolong or delay a nomination by requesting additional information or time as a hearing approaches. In an election year, when the sitting president has a limited amount of time left in office to get a nominee confirmed, this can be a sticky problem.

Step Four: The Judiciary Committee Votes On Whether To Report The Nominee To The Full Senate

Even after all the questions and background checks, the Judiciary Committee still has more vetting to do. They have to choose whether or not to report the nominee to the full Senate and move the process along. If they do report the nominee, the Judiciary Committee can submit the nomination with a favorable recommendation, an unfavorable recommendation, or no recommendation at all. Senators who oppose the nomination can cause more delays by using procedural tactics to prevent a committee vote, again a problem when the president is in a time crunch.

Step Five: The Senate Debates The Confirmation

You didn't think the Senate was just going to vote on this, did you? That's just not what the Senate does. It debates things! The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee leads the Senate hearing. The senior Democratic and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee lead their party's questioning. Senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to thwart confirmation or prolong the process; it is yet another way to run out the clock before a vote.

Step Six: The Senate Votes

Finally, the full Senate votes on the nomination. Took them long enough, right? A majority vote of the Senators present is required for the nomination to be confirmed. According to Georgetown Law, there have been 158 presidential nominations to the Court between 1789 and 2007. A total of 36 nominees failed to win confirmation from the Senate.

Step Seven: The Nominee Is Sworn In

If the Senate confirms the nomination, the nominee goes directly to the White House to be sworn in. They're are appointed to the position of Supreme Court Justice for life.

Bonus Questions:

How long does this process take?
According to The Washington Post, it takes about 75 to 90 days from the time of a Supreme Court vacancy to appointment.
What happens if the Senate rejects the nominee?
We go all the way back to step one. The president has to choose another nominee and the process is repeated.
Has Obama ever nominated a Supreme Court justice before?
Obama has nominated two justices: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Both were confirmed by the Senate and are now sitting on the bench.

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