Take a tour:
The Court, Past and Present:
1. Explain basics of confirmation process:
(a) The President reviews potential candidates. Lobbyists and public interest groups are influential in this process—they focus media attention on perceived positive and negative characteristics of each potential candidate.
(b) The President proposes a nominee.
(c) The Senate then has the power to approve or disapprove the nominee.
(i) Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” the justices of the Supreme Court.
(d) Confirmation Hearing:
(i) The Senate comes to a decision of whether to approve or disapprove through a confirmation hearing. The Judiciary Committee is responsible for running the confirmation hearing and is made up of a roughly equal number of Republican and Democrat senators.
(ii) Structure of a typical confirmation hearing:
a) The Judiciary Committee gives an opening statement.
b) The nominee gives an opening statement.
c) Then there are two rounds. In round one, each member of the Judiciary Committee has 30 minutes to ask the nominee questions. In round two, each member has 20 minutes to ask the nominee questions. If the Committee wishes to question the nominee further, they may do so.
d) The Committee then hears from several panels of witnesses both in favor of and in opposition to the nominee.
e) Recommendation: The Committee then reports its findings back to the Senate. The Committee may report favorably, negatively, or make no recommendation as to whether the nominee should be confirmed.
f) Confirmation: The senators then vote to confirm. A simple majority of senators must be present and voting. Once confirmed, the nominee is a Supreme Court justice.
1. The West Wing episodes “The Short List” (1st season) and/or “The Supremes” (5th season): Have students watch the episode and discuss the following:
Using the examples from The West Wing episode, identify and describe ways in which politics influences the nomination process of Supreme Court justices.
- What do Presidents consider when appointing justices to the Supreme Court? Ask students to work with a partner and take on the roles of president and White House special counsel. The pair should brainstorm a list of characteristics the president thinks is important when considering a potential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. After students share their lists with the rest of the class, project the overhead, Factors That Influence Presidential Nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ask students to compare and contrast the factors on the transparency with those discussed in class.