Academic journal article Justice System Journal

The Partisan Dynamics of Supreme Court Confirmation Voting

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

The Partisan Dynamics of Supreme Court Confirmation Voting

Article excerpt

A sizable literature has explored the growth of partisan polarization in Congress and its impact on legislative behavior. Using this lens, we provide empirical analysis of the role of parties in more than seven decades of Supreme Court confirmation voting and offer several original findings. First, we offer new evidence that the strength of the president's party in the state's electorate has significantly and increasingly affected senators' votes. We also find that, since the mid-1980s, partisanship and ideology have become dominant influences in confirmation voting, while nominee qualifications and presidential strength have declined in importance. Finally, our evidence shows that polarization has more strongly affected opposite-party senators and Republican senators, who have become much more inclined to unite against the judicial nominees of presidents belonging to the other party. We hope these findings contribute to a much-needed dialogue between the judicial politics and congressional behavior literatures and encourage a stronger scholarly focus on interbranch partisan strategies.

Article II provides that the president "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint... Judges of the Supreme Court." The seriousness with which the Senate assumes this constitutional responsibility is indicated by its refusal to confirm 18 percent of Supreme Court nominees (27 of 151), far more than the mere handful of Cabinet nominees it has rejected. The confirmation process has also intensified over the last half-century, taking far more time, attracting greater media and interest group attention, generating million-dollar advertising campaigns, and often triggering intense partisan and interbranch clashes. Of course, such conflict is not surprising given that judicial decisions can help or hinder politicians in their electoral and policy aims, while these same politicians are empowered to select judges. In this article, however, we argue that the more powerful and proximate force behind this escalating conflict is the increasing polarization of congressional parties that has altered legislative behavior and transformed the judicial confirmation process.

In examining these partisan dynamics and their impact, our study contributes to two important literatures-one on judicial appointments and the other on partisan theories of congressional behavior. Specifically, we find evidence that the strength of partisanship in the electorate has a statistically significant effect on confirmation voting that is independent of ideology, a finding that directly links the politics of Supreme Court confirmations with the congressional literature on parties in Congress, member goals, and legislative behavior. While presidential strength and nominee qualifications influenced senators' votes before the mid-1980s, we find that confirmation votes in the modern polarized era are characterized by a diminished concern for these two factors in favor of partisan and ideological influences. We also observe in the post-1985 period important differences in the voting behavior of senators who share the partisan affiliation of the nominating president and those who do not, with such differences consistent with partisan accounts of congressional behavior; most notably, same-party senators disregard nominee ideology in their voting decision, while opposite-party senators act cohesively against the president's nominee. Finally, we find this post-1985 oppositional behavior to be much more pronounced among Republicans than Democrats, perhaps because of a growing emphasis on judicial philosophy as part of the Republican "party brand." With these initial steps at connecting the congressional parties literature with the judicial politics literature on confirmations, we present intriguing evidence regarding the influence of partisanship in the confirmation process and reveal some promising avenues for future research.

Previous Research on Senate Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominees

Judicial politics scholars have adopted a variety of approaches in their examination of the Senate confirmation process. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.