Supreme Court nominees through the years: Some things to know

The Supreme Court of the United States was established in 1789, and President George Washington submitted 14 nominations to the Senate for advice and consent. Ten of those nominations were confirmed during Washington’s two terms.

In total, presidents have submitted 163 nominations for the nation’s highest court, including those for chief justice. From that total, 126 were confirmed and seven declined to serve.

The death of Associated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday means another nomination will be submitted. When that happens is open to debate. Late Friday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that the Senate would vote on a replacement named by President Donald Trump.

Certainly, there is nothing that prevents a Supreme Court vacancy from being filled, no matter how close it is to a general election, The Washington Post reported. On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted that selecting a justice was an “obligation, without delay.”

“We won. And we have an obligation,” Trump told reporters during a campaign stop in North Carolina later Saturday.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said late Friday that the winner of the November election should decide who will fill the vacancy.

It promises to be a contentious political fight, but if Trump puts a name forward and that nominee is confirmed, it will mark the president’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Here are some things to know about Supreme Court nominees through the years, and the implications for the lastest vacancy.

By the numbers

Next to Washington, who was populating the Supreme Court for the first time, the president who had the most justices confirmed was Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR submitted nine nominations to the Supreme Court between 1937 and 1943, and all were confirmed by the Senate.


Before Trump, two justices were confirmed during the terms of the last four presidents -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Four justices were confirmed during the terms of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

No justice

Four presidents have not had a Supreme Court justice confirmed during their terms. William Henry Harrison, who died after 30 days in 1841, was the first. Zachary Taylor, who also died in office, did not have the opportunity to nominate a justice. Andrew Johnson submitted one nomination, but Henry Stanbery was never confirmed. Jimmy Carter also never had a chance to submit a nomination.

How long does it take?

That depends. The Senate took 89 days to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, the last justice appointed. Ginsburg was confirmed in 50 days in 1991, and it took the Senate 66 days to confirm Neil Gorsuch. Sonia Sotomayor (2009) and John Roberts (2005) were confirmed in 72 days, and it took the Senate 77 days to confirm Stephen Breyer in 1994. Elena Kagan’s confirmation took 87 days in 2010, and Samuel Alito (2006) was confirmed in 92 days. Clarence Thomas took the longest to be confirmed, as the Senate debated his 1991 nomination for 106 days.

No stalling allowed

If Trump pushes a nominee to the Senate before the general election, the Democrats cannot delay a vote by filibuster. Ironically, they can blame themselves for that. In 2013, Democrats eliminated the 60-vote threshold for most judicial nominees, The New York Times reported. Democrats passed that rule because of frustrations created when Republicans used the filibuster to impede Obama’s legislative agenda. In 2017, Republicans turned the tables, abolishing the limitation on Supreme Court nominees, a response to resistance for Gorsuch’s nomination.


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