Ruth Bader Ginsburg – What Happens Now?

In the frenzied pre-electoral atmosphere South of the border, there appears to be a rush to nominate a candidate to take the place of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who passed away less than a week ago.

But politics aside, how exactly will her replacement be selected in theory? What are the procedures that need to be followed?

The Congressional Research Service in Washington, D.C. has published a few reports that explain how the process is supposed to unfold.

The Service is an agency located within the Library of Congress that conducts independent expert-level research for congressional committees and members of the American Congress.

  • Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee (updated September 21, 2020): “Under the Constitution, Justices on the Supreme Court receive what can amount to lifetime appointments which, by constitutional design, helps ensure the Court’s independence from the President and Congress. The procedure for appointing a Justice is provided for by the Constitution in only a few words. The “Appointments Clause” (Article II, Section 2, clause 2) states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” The process of appointing Justices has undergone changes over two centuries, but its most basic feature—the sharing of power between the President and Senate—has remained unchanged: To receive appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate. Political considerations typically play an important role in Supreme Court appointments. It is often assumed, for example, that Presidents will be inclined to select a nominee whose political or ideological views appear compatible with their own. The political nature of the appointment process becomes especially apparent when a President submits a nominee with controversial views, there are sharp partisan or ideological differences between the President and the Senate, or the outcome of important constitutional issues before the Court is seen to be at stake…”
  • Supreme Court Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee (updated September 22, 2020): “To receive appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate. Although not mentioned in the Constitution, an important role is played midway in the process (after the President selects, but before the Senate considers) by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specifically, the Judiciary Committee, rather than the Senate as a whole, assumes the principal responsibility for investigating the background and qualifications of each Supreme Court nominee, and typically the committee conducts a close, intensive investigation of each nominee. Since the late 1960s, the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of a Supreme Court nominee almost always has consisted of three distinct stages—(1) a pre-hearing investigative stage, followed by (2) public hearings, and concluding with (3) a committee decision on what recommendation to make to the full Senate…”
  • Supreme Court Appointment Process: Senate Debate and Confirmation Vote (updated September 7, 2018): “For the President, the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice can be a notable measure by which history will judge his Presidency. For the Senate, a decision to confirm is a solemn matter as well, for it is the Senate alone, through its ‘Advice and Consent’ function, without any formal involvement of the House of Representatives, which acts as a safeguard on the President’s judgment. This report provides information and analysis related to the final stage of the confirmation process for a nomination to the Supreme Court—the consideration of the nomination by the full Senate, including floor debate and the vote on whether to approve the nomination. Traditionally, the Senate has tended to be less deferential to the President in his choice of Supreme Court Justices than in his appointment of persons to high executive branch positions. The more exacting standard usually applied to Supreme Court nominations reflects the special importance of the Court, coequal to and independent of the presidency and Congress. Senators are also mindful that Justices—unlike persons elected to legislative office or confirmed to executive branch positions—receive the opportunity to serve a lifetime appointment during good behavior. The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice might or might not proceed smoothly. From the appointment of the first Justices in 1789 through its consideration of nominee Neil Gorsuch in 2017, the Senate has confirmed 118 Supreme Court nominations out of 162 received. Of the 44 nominations that were not confirmed, 12 were rejected outright in roll-call votes by the Senate, while nearly all of the rest, in the face of substantial committee or Senate opposition to the nominee or the President, were withdrawn by the President, or were postponed, tabled, or never voted on by the Senate.”

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