It's Not Personal

Politics and Policy in Lower Court Confirmation Hearings
Logan Dancey, Kjersten R. Nelson, and Eve M. Ringsmuth


In order to be confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the federal bench, all district and circuit court nominees must appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing. Most commonly, nominees field a handful of questions by two senators, yet some nominees receive over 150 questions by 10 or more senators. Lower court judges make up approximately 98% of permanent federal judgeships and their cases encompass a variety of policy areas as they interpret and apply the Constitution, laws, and precedents of the United States.

The authors of It’s Not Personal analyzed transcripts for all district and circuit court confirmation hearings between 1993 and 2012. They found that the time-consuming practice of confirmation hearings for district and circuit nominees provides an important venue in which senators can advocate on behalf of their policy preferences and bolster their chances of being reelected. The variation in lower court nominees’ experiences before the Judiciary Committee exists because senators pursue these goals in different ways, depending on the level of controversy surrounding a nominee. Studying confirmation hearings improves our understanding of the process by which individuals gain lifetime seats on the federal bench, positions from which they can influence the development of law.

Logan Dancey is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University.

Kjersten R. Nelson is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Political Science at North Dakota State University.

Eve M. Ringsmuth is Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University.

Supplemental Materials

Appendix tables for Fulcrum only (not print book)

Product Details

  • 224 pages.
  • 22 charts, 10 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2020
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-12656-9

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  • $70.00 U.S.



  • Confirmation hearings; confirmation process; district court(s); circuit court(s); courts of appeals; Senate Judiciary Committee; Lower court; Congress; Article III; Advice and Consent; separation of powers; legislative/judicial interaction; judicial politics; controversial nominees; interest groups; interest group opposition; congressional committees; committee chairs; presidential nominations; nuclear option; lifetime appointment