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Partisan Balance With Bite

Since the 1960s, the closest roll calls on whether to confirm a Supreme Court nomination were the vote in 1991 confirming Clarence Thomas; the vote in 1970 rejecting G. Harrold Carswell; the vote in 1969 rejecting Clement Haynsworth Jr.; the vote in 1987 rejecting Robert H. Bork; and the vote confirming William H. Rehnquist to be Chief Justice in 1986. The closest roll call vote ever cast on whether to confirm a Supreme Court nomination was the vote in 1881 confirming President James A. Garfield’s nomination of Stanley Matthews. “To a certain extent, presidents have always looked to the Senate for recommendations and subsequently relied on a nominee’s backers there to help move the nomination through the Senate.” Watson and Stookey,Shaping America, p. 78. The 2001 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary noted that the Chief Justice led a delegation representing the federal judiciary to Mexico at the invitation of the the President of the Mexican Supreme Court as part of a judicial exchange (a follow-up to a similar visit by a Mexican delegation to Washington in 1999). In 2001, more than 800 representatives from over 40 federal judicial systems around the world visited the Supreme Court to learn about the American judicial system.

Senators who candidly inform a President of their objections to a prospective nominee may help in identifying shortcomings in that candidate or the possibility of a confirmation battle in the Senate, which the President might want to avoid. Conversely, input from the Senate might draw new Supreme Court candidates to the President’s attention, or provide additional reasons to nominate a person who already is on the President’s list of prospective nominees. A President, however, may have additional concerns when the Supreme Court vacancy ford lightning takuache to be filled is that of the Chief Justice. Besides requiring that a candidate be politically acceptable, have excellent legal qualifications, and enjoy a reputation for integrity, a President might be concerned that his nominee have proven leadership qualities necessary to effectively perform the tasks specific to the position of Chief Justice. Such qualities, in the President’s view, could include administrative and human relations skills, with the latter especially important in fostering collegiality among the Court’s members.

President Adams got up and rode out of town to begin the long journey back to Quincy. After all, no customary etiquette for the transfer o f power had yet been created. It may have been resentment, but it may also have been that he was not formally invited and he did not want to presume that his presence was desired. It is also possible that Adams had felt that George Washington had upstaged him in 1797 when he was inaugurated, and he wanted to set a precedent that would prevent a like occurrence from happening again. The best explanation, however, is that he was simply anxious to get home to his beloved wife and his farm.

The appointment process officially begins when the President selects someone to fill the Court vacancy. Except in rare cases of temporary recess appointments, the President will seek to give this person a lifetime appointment, which will require Senate consent. To obtain the Senate’s approval, the President submits a written nomination of the person to the Senate. Usually on the same day it is received by the Senate, the nomination is referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Immediately upon the President’s announcement of a nominee, the Judicial Committee initiates its own intensive investigation into the nominee’s background.

The Committee issues confidential opinions on individual inquiries and, from time to time, issues public advisory opinions that summarize advice on recurring issues. In short, the story of extrajudicial political activity in the twentieth century is one of contradictions. As the examples above illuminate, inconsistencies emerged between the increasingly robust principles and rhetoric around ethics on the one hand, and the actual conduct of the Justices on the other.

When Republicans obstructed or successfully blocked confirmation proceedings in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election because they disliked President Obama or simply did not want him to fill vacancies, their actions were not unprecedented. They were doing what partisan Senators had done since the early 1800s. The relative ease with which the Senate confirmed Pierce’s judicial nominees is testimony to the Democrats’ dominance in the Senate. While there was little debate or evident furor over these nominations, members of Congress—and the nation—had, in the meantime, sharply divided over Pierce’s proposed Kansas–Nebraska Act, which vested the people of each of those territories to decide for themselves on whether to become slave or free states.

In 2001, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, sponsored by a consortium of major United States news organizations, conducted the Florida Ballot Project, a comprehensive review of 175,010 ballots that vote-counting machines had rejected from the entire state, not just the disputed counties that were recounted. The project’s goal was to determine the reliability and accuracy of the systems used in the voting process, including how different systems correlated with voter mistakes. Based on the review, the media group concluded that if the disputes over the validity of all the ballots in question had been consistently resolved and any uniform standard applied, the electoral result would have been reversed and Gore would have won by 60 to 171 votes. On the other hand, under scenarios involving review of limited sets of ballots uncounted by machines, Bush would have kept his lead.