Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings in the U.S. Senate
Reconsidering the Charade
How much do Supreme Court nominees reveal at their confirmation hearings, and how do their answers affect senators' votes?
Critics claim that Supreme Court nominees have become more evasive in recent decades and that Senate confirmation hearings lack real substance. Conducting a line-by-line analysis of the confirmation hearing of every nominee since 1955—an original dataset of nearly 11,000 questions and answers from testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—Dion Farganis and Justin Wedeking discover that nominees are far more forthcoming than generally assumed. Applying an original scoring system to assess each nominee’s testimony based on the same criteria, they show that some of the earliest nominees were actually less willing to answer questions than their contemporary counterparts. Factors such as changes in the political culture of Congress and the 1981 introduction of televised coverage of the hearings have created the impression that nominee candor is in decline. Further, senators’ votes are driven more by party and ideology than by a nominee’s responsiveness to their questions. Moreover, changes in the confirmation process intersect with increasing levels of party polarization as well as constituents’ more informed awareness and opinions of recent Supreme Court nominees.
“This book can have an impact on the current debate on judicial selection and reforms in the confirmation process. It serves an important role by providing empirical evidence on the nature of Senate confirmation hearings and nominees’ responses to questions.”
—Paul Wahlbeck, George Washington University
“By using empirical evidence to challenge the conventional wisdom about nominee candor in judicial confirmation hearings, the authors do a nice job of showing the flaws in such accounts. In light of how high-profile judicial confirmation hearings have become in the past few decades, I predict that this book will be widely read.”
—Jamie L. Carson, University of Georgia
Cover photograph: © Joe Ravi / iStockphoto
Praise / Awards
"The book makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of the Supreme Court confirmation process. The thorough, exhaustive data collection alone will make this book an invaluable resource for students of the Supreme Court and anyone who is interested in confirmation politics, media coverage of political events, or the impact of congressional hearings. The book is also unquestionably successful in defeating the conventional narrative that the confirmation process was once dramatically more forthcoming than it is today. ... No study of the Supreme Court confirmation process will be complete without engaging the data and the arguments that the authors bring to bear here."
--- Political Science Quarterly
"The data are compelling and the book is an important addition to the literature."
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