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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Norman Vieira and Leonard Gross provide an in-depth analysis of the political and legal framework surrounding the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees. President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court met with a fierce opposition that was apparent in his confirmation hearings, which were different in many ways from those of any previous nominee. This behind-the-scenes view of the politics and personalities involved in the Bork confirmation controversy provides a framework for future debates regarding the confirmation process. To help establish that framework, Vieira and Gross examine the similarities as well as the differences between the Bork confirmation battle and other confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominees.

Excerpt

This volume on Supreme Court appointments grew out of the controversy surrounding President Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert Bork to succeed Justice Powell on the Supreme Court. Because few knowledgeable observers questioned Judge Bork's professional qualifications, opposition to Bork quickly focused on his judicial philosophy. The focus on ideology raised a crucial issue as to whether it was proper for the Senate to reject for ideological reasons an otherwise qualified nominee. This book analyzes the Bork proceedings and the role of judicial ideology in the confirmation process. It also examines all of the post-Bork appointments to the Supreme Court. In these endeavors, we have relied on interviews with major participants in the confirmation process, as well as on traditional primary materials like committee hearings and Senate debates. We are grateful for the help of Gregg Walters, Nancy Stanley, and other research assistants.

It is significant that the fallout from the Bork confirmation battle has not abated in more than ten years following the event. Indeed, the impact of the Bork precedent has now reached beyond Supreme Court appointments to affect the nomination of judges for all federal courts and even the selection of candidates for cabinet and subcabinet positions. Just this year, the Washington Post reported that "[n]early 10 percent of the 846 seats on the federal bench are now empty, and the Senate has confirmed only 53 judicial nominees over the past two years," compared with 101 confirmations in 1994 alone. Chief Justice Rehnquist has warned that "vacancies cannot remain at such high levels indefinitely without eroding the quality of justice" (Washington Post,Jan. 3, 1998, A20). But Senator Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded that the problem stems from President Clinton's nomination of "activist judges," and other Republican senators have said that they would . . .

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