The Senate as a BLACK HOLE

By Binder, Sarah A. | Brookings Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Senate as a BLACK HOLE


Binder, Sarah A., Brookings Review


Lessons Learned from the Judicial Appointment Experience

For many a presidential appointee, the Senate must loom like an institutional black hole--an abyss that engulfs even the most luminous nominee. That impression is, in fact, mistaken. Most presidential nominees emerge from the Senate confirmation process and are eventually confirmed. But for many recent nominees, the experience has been long and unsettling.

Richard Paez, for example, a federal district court judge selected by President Clinton to fill a vacancy in 1996 on the pivotal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, had received the highest rating possible from the American Bar Association and been confirmed just two years earlier by a Democratic Senate for a seat on a federal district bench. Yet it took a Republican Senate more than four years to confirm his elevation to the appellate bench.

Is Paez's confirmation experience typical? Are recent delays in the confirmation process for judicial appointees due mostly to antagonisms between President Clinton and the Republican Senate? Or are broader institutional and electoral trends at work? If so, what can other presidential appointees learn from the experience of judicial nominees? Although judges' lifetime tenure on the federal bench and their broad policy jurisdiction distinguishes judicial nominees from all other appointees, no presidential appointee can afford to ignore the institutional and partisan hurdles that the Senate erects against presidential appointees seeking public service.

The Senate Record

Judge Paez's drawn-out confirmation, though extreme, reflects a broader trend under way in recent Congresses. Figure 1 shows how the confirmation process lengthened over the last half of the 20th century for all judicial nominees eventually confirmed by the Senate. Whereas the Senate took just one month to confirm the average judicial nominee during Ronald Reagan's first term, by the end of Clinton's second term the average wait had grown sixfold. At least one-third of Clinton's judicial nominees in the 105th Congress (1997-98) waited more than six months to be confirmed, with the longest wait for a confirmed nominee stretching nearly the entire length of the Congress.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The delays Clinton weathered in getting his nominees confirmed to the bench are not simply a reflection of his polarized relations with a conservative Republican Senate. During the mid-1980s a Democratic Senate took an average of nearly four months to confirm judicial nominees of Presidents Reagan and Bush. And during 1993 and 1994, a Democratic Senate averaged three months in confirming Clinton's nominees.

Indeed, although the politics of recent confirmations might be especially polarized, contentious relations between the Senate and the president go back a long way. During Dwight Eisenhower's last term, for example, it took the Democratic Senate led by Lyndon Johnson an average of four months--and sometimes as long as seven months--to confirm judicial nominees.

The Politics of Senate Delay

By any measure, the Senate's performance in dispensing advice and consent varied widely over the last half of the 20th century. How do we account for the uneven performance? Pundits assessing the Senate's treatment of Clinton's nominees typically point first to the poisoned relations between conservative Republicans and Clinton. It is often suggested that personal and political antagonisms between Clinton and hard-right conservatives led Republican senators to hold up unduly even the most highly qualified nominees. This may account for some of the delay, but hardly for all, since the trend toward lengthy confirmation proceedings was well under way before Clinton took office in 1993 and Republicans gained control of the Senate after the 1994 elections.

Others suggest that extreme delays encountered by judicial nominees in the 106th Congress owed much to the approaching presidential election.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Senate as a BLACK HOLE
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?