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Supreme Court Appointments: Judge Bork and the Politicization of Senate Confirmations

By Norman Vieira; Leonard Gross | Go to book overview

5
THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

The Senate Judiciary Committee was established in 1868. However, the committee's review of Supreme Court nominees in the nineteenth century was largely pro forma. No public hearings were held, and no written reports were issued. Public hearings began in 1916 with the controversial nomination of Louis D. Brandeis, but no nominee testified before the committee until Felix Frankfurter appeared in 1939. In the twentieth century, approval by the Judiciary Committee has been necessary, but not always sufficient, to ensure approval by the full Senate. The only nominee to receive a negative vote in committee before Robert Bork was Judge Parker, who was eventually denied confirmation by the Senate on a vote of thirty-nine to forty-one.

The Judiciary Committee that would conduct hearings on the Bork nomination consisted of eight Democrats and six Republicans. However, no one expected a straight party-line vote, and Bork, of course, could not win a party-line vote. A more useful analysis divided the committee into three groups, each including both Democratic and Republican members. The first group was made up of senior senators who would inevitably play an important role in the hearings. A second group consisted of senators who had either committed themselves on the Bork nomination or whose votes were entirely predictable, even in the absence of specific commitments. The third and perhaps the most important group was made up of uncommitted senators whose votes could not be easily predicted.

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