Failed SCOTUS Nominees
One of the reasons that I tend to take a fairly dispassionate view of SCOTUS nominations and to focus primarily on the qualifications question is simply because the probabilities are that once a president makes a selection that the candidate will be confirmed.
Within my politically active life (i.e., the time in which I have paid attention to politics, i.e., roughly the end of the Carter administration), there have been only three failed nominees:
- 1987: Robert Bork
- 1987: Douglas Ginsburg
- 2005: Harriet Miers
Bork was famously rejected on ideological grounds after contentious hearings, leading to the transformation of his name into a verb. Ginsburg, the replacement for Bork, withdrew because it become known that he had once used marijuana (yes, I know: how quaint).
Miers famously withdrew after she was severely criticized from the right and the left on qualifications grounds (and many on the right doubted her ideological positions as well).
Given that from 1976 (the start of the Carter administration) to now that there have been 11 vacancies and only 3 failures (2 for the same slot), it is reasonable to start every nominations off with the assumption that the nominee will be confirmed.
Further, the odds of another Bork have radically decreased because presidents are fully aware of the risk they run appointing someone with a paper trail of similar length and depth as that of Bork’s. Also, Miers was uniquely under-qualified for the position, a mistake that is unlikely to be replicated again anytime soon.
The Ginsburg scenario is actually the type more likely to re-emerge (i.e., some surprise personal issues that makes a candidate politically unviable). And, of course, such a situation is rather impossible for the public to predict. It is also something that is probably less likely today than it was 20+ years ago, as one presumes that the vetting process has become more thorough (because of Ginsburg, and because of the 24/7 news cycle and the awareness of how little things can be become huge in such an environment).