Some History Regarding SCOTUS Nominations

The NYT provides the following:  Supreme Court Nominees Considered in Election Years Are Usually Confirmed

Since 1900, the Senate has voted on eight Supreme Court nominees during an election year. Six were confirmed. But several of those were for seats that had become vacant in the previous year.

Along with the factoid, there is a very useful chart that is worth reviewing.


The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination; on average, a nominee has been confirmed, rejected or withdrawn within 25 days.

So, on the one hand, history and tradition dictate that there should at least be a vote sometimes in the next 11 months.

On the other, I suspect that neither history nor tradition will end up guiding outcomes this year.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Law and the Courts, US Politics,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. gVOR08 says:

    On the other, I suspect that neither history nor tradition will end up guiding outcomes this year.

    Aren’t Conservatives, by definition, supposed to respect history and tradition? Le sigh.

  2. @gVOR08: On the one hand, yes. On the other, we use that term loosely in US politics and, really, power calculations frequently trump such things in any event.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    I suspect that neither history nor tradition will end up guiding outcomes this year.

    Why would a Conservative party be interested in history or tradition?

    we use that term loosely in US politics

    I think what you meant to type is that Republicans are NOT Conservatives, they only claim to be.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I do think the “days to a vote” metric is somewhat misleading here. As an NPR feature notes:

    2. The longest vacancy on the Supreme Court was 27 months between the Tyler and Polk administrations before the Civil War. Tyler, derided as “His Accidency,” because he was the first vice president elevated to the White House, also holds the distinction of a record eight nominees rejected or withdrawn.

    3. The longest vacancy since the court went to nine justices in 1869 was 391 days. After Abe Fortas resigned from the court in 1969, Richard Nixon’s first two attempts to replace him were narrowly rejected in November of 1969 and April of 1970. That means if Obama doesn’t get a nominee through, the next president would have until March 12, 2017, before the vacancy record would be broken.

    I think that Obama is entitled to nominate a qualified successor and get a vote. But long delays are not extraordinary.

  5. @James Joyner: Fair enough.

  6. Grewgills says:

    @James Joyner:
    The fact that you can only point to one since the Civil War speaks to them being pretty extraordinary.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    Wasn’t the Nixon case unique because the court was ruling in the criminality of Nixon administration actions? Or do inhale the time frame mixed up?

  8. Boyd says:

    How many of those election year appointments involved the President and the Senate belonging to different parties?

  9. Just Me says:

    It wasn’t the GOP that turned Bork into a verb.

    Chickens coming home to roost and all that.

  10. Grewgills says:

    @Just Me:
    Bork was a specific candidate with specific problems. If Obama had nominated a rabid left wing justice with views FAR outside mainstream jurisprudence then a Bork type response would be justified. This sight unseen response to ANY candidate regardless their political or judicial bent is beyond the pale and well beyond chickens coming home to roost.

  11. bill says:

    @Grewgills: really, kagan/sotomayer are considered “mainstream/neutral” or something?
    also, didn’t obama filibuster alito – that’s not picking up much msm buzz for some reason.
    but anyhoo- lamus duckus has done enough damage with his like minded nominee’s, let the people decide who gets in next via the election.

  12. al-Ameda says:


    let the people decide who gets in next via the election

    Where in the Constitution does it specify that in an election year a president should leave a Supreme Court seat vacant for nearly one year because the opposition party wants another president to nominate a justice with the ‘correct’ ideology and judicial philosophy?