Zach Dussalt

A Critical Comparison of Senate Considerations in Confirmation Hearings for United States Supreme Court Nominees

This study seeks to explain how Senators determine nominee’s suitability to sit on the Supreme Court. By looking at the confirmation hearings of five recent nominees to the Supreme Court, it will attempt to find commonalities amongst the hearings that point to a specific criterion that determines which nominee’s receive the most opposition in the Senate and which nominees pass easily. Three of the confirmation hearings studied, the hearings of Justices William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, and the hearing of Judge Robert Bork, were contentious hearings. The paper seeks to determine why, with similar issues raised in each hearing, both Rehnquist and Thomas passed narrowly while Judge Bork was rejected by the Senate. The other two hearings, the hearings for Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were characterized by little disagreement amongst the Senators. The large margin by which both Scalia and Ginsburg were confirmed is surprising considering the controversial nature of many of their decisions. My paper argues that the ability of nominees to hide their personal view and evade questions concerning how they will rule on future matters is the most important factor. It will also address the implications of the lack of transparence in terms of the public’s ability to be informed about court decisions and the ability of the political branches to determine the composition of the Supreme Court.