Highlights of Past Supreme Court
The process of nominating and confirming Supreme Court justices
is one of the cornerstones of the Constitution's separation of
powers. The nomination process involves a unique interplay of
legal, political and personal considerations.
Of the 148 Supreme Court nominees the Senate has reviewed to
date, only 27 or almost 20 percent have been denied their appointment,
according to the U.S. Senate Art and History Office. These rejections
have been for a variety of reasons including the perception of
personal or professional incompetence, inexperience, philosophical
positions out of the mainstream of the public and allegations
of impropriety. Some justices have had attempts made to discredit
them after they have served on the court, while others have been
rejected once and later confirmed.
The following are notable Supreme Court nominations throughout
this nation's history:
-- John Jay is unanimously confirmed the first chief justice of
the Supreme Court due, like many of President George Washington's
first nominees, to his lengthy career in public service and support
of the Constitution.
1795 -- John Rutledge is nominated
by President Washington to replace Chief Justice John Jay as the
country's second chief justice. Prior to his confirmation hearing,
Rutledge speaks against the Jay Treaty -- covering U.S. dealings
with Great Britain -- which is endorsed by the Federalist-controlled
Senate and signed by President Washington. Rutledge's views arouse
the anger of the Federalist-controlled Senate and calling into
question Rutledge's political judgment -- and for some senators,
his mental competency. As a result, Rutledge is rejected, 10-14,
making it clear that the Senate's examination of a nominee's qualifications
could extend to his political views.
1796 -- Samuel Chase is nominated
by President Washington and confirmed in one day, due to his history
of patriotism and his experience as a state judge. But Chase later
falls out of favor for his support of the controversial Alien
and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798 by the Federalists to stop foreign
interference and silence criticism by the Democratic-Republicans.
In 1803, Chase's political opponents in the House of Representatives
draw up impeachment proceedings charging judicial misconduct.
Chase becomes the only Supreme Court justice ever to be impeached.
However, political supporters in the Senate acquit Chase and he
serves eight more years on the court.
1811 -- President James Madison's
appointment of Alexander Wolcott holds the dubious distinction
of being rejected by the widest majority for a Supreme Court justice
nomination. Madison nominates Wolcott based on his Republican
leadership in his home state of Connecticut. However, convinced
Wolcott lacks appropriate legal training and experience, the Senate
rejects his nomination by a 9-24 vote.
1835-6 -- In January 1835,
Andrew Jackson selects political ally Roger Taney as associate
justice of the Supreme Court. Political opponents in the Senate
block the vote on the last day of the session due in part to Taney's
association with Jackson. In December, Jackson again submits Taney
to replace the late John Marshall. When the Senate reconvenes
in 1836, the Democrats hold a slim margin and after bitter debate,
approve Taney by a vote of 29-15.
1844-5 -- During the last
14 months of President John Tyler's term in office his nominees
John Spencer, Ruben Walworth, Edward King and John Read are rejected;
King is rejected twice. These constitute the most Supreme Court
nomination rejections of any president. Tyler's strident support
for states' rights angers the Whig-controlled Senate. Tyler finally
gets a justice on the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Samuel
Nelson in February 1845, just as he is leaving office.
1861 -- President James Buchanan
nominates lawyer and attorney general Jeremiah Black to the Supreme
Court in the waning months of his presidency. Black's nomination
faces two obstacles: a new president, Abraham Lincoln, will take
office in a month and Black is a northerner opposed to abolition,
thus displeasing many in the Senate. His nomination is rejected,
1870 -- One of the few appointments
President Ulysses Grant makes is Ebenezer Hoar as justice of the
Supreme Court. The Senate rejects Hoar's nomination, 33-24, due
in part to his opposition to the impeachment of President Andrew
Johnson and his past rejection of political patronage while serving
as attorney general under Grant.
1881 -- President Rutherford
Hayes nominates former Sen. Stanley Matthews in January, just
before the end of his term. The Senate takes no action to confirm
Matthews suspicious he will sustain monopolies due to his previous
employment as a "railroad lawyer." Two months later,
President James Garfield nominates Matthews and after two months
of debate, the Senate confirms him, 24-23.
1893-4 -- President Grover
Cleveland selects William Hornblower over the objections of New
York Sen. David Hill. Hornblower's nomination is defeated, 30-24.
Unconcerned, Cleveland nominates Wheeler Peckham, again under
Hill's objections and he, too, is defeated 41-32. Three days after
Peckham's rejection, Cleveland foils Hill's political maneuvering
by nominating sitting Sen. Edward White of Louisiana, who is confirmed
unanimously the same day.
-- President Woodrow Wilson nominates lawyer Louis Brandeis to
the Supreme Court, sparking one of the most antagonistic confirmation
fights in the history of the Senate. The controversy stems from
Brandeis' advocacy of "social jurisprudence" focusing
on social and economic issues instead of constitutional precedents.
Despite a vote of no-confidence by the American Bar Association
and a slim two-vote margin in the Senate Judiciary Committee,
he is confirmed by a wide 47-22 margin in the Senate.
1925 -- President Calvin
Coolidge nominates Harlan Fiske Stone, who becomes the first Supreme
Court nominee to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Though he faces a month of vigorous questioning, he is confirmed,
1930 -- President Herbert
Hoover nominates 4th U.S. Circuit Appeals Chief Judge John Parker
to the Supreme Court. Focusing on his earlier judicial record
rather than his professional attributes, a strong opposition led
by the American Federation of Labor and the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People accuse him of insensitivity
to labor and racial problems. These efforts are successful in
lobbying senators to reject his nomination, 39-41. Remaining on
the court of appeals, Parker later hands down several significant
decisions supporting the rights of blacks.
1967 -- At the height of the
civil rights movement, President Lyndon Johnson names civil rights
legal expert Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, the first
black person to be nominated. Marshall, who earlier as a lawyer
successfully argued to strike down racial segregation in public
education in the historic case of Brown vs. Board of Education
of Topeka, Kansas, is confirmed, 69-11.
1968 -- President Lyndon Johnson
nominates sitting Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to replace
Earl Warren as chief justice. Republican senators, in the minority
but heartened by the possibility of capturing the presidency in
the fall, launch a filibuster against the nomination. Debate rages
on Fortas' questionable financial activities and his role as a
presidential adviser. His supporters are unable to muster enough
votes to force cloture and Fortas asks Johnson to withdraw his
nomination. Early the next year, he resigns from the court.
1969 -- President Richard
Nixon nominates appellate justice Clement Haynsworth Jr. to fill
the Fortas vacancy on the high court. Haynsworth quickly runs
into trouble with conflict-of-interest charges similar to Fortas.
He also faces resistance from labor and civil rights organizations.
In a vote in which 17 of 43 Republicans cross party lines, the
Senate rejects the nomination, 45-55.
1970 -- Bitter over the Clement
Haynsworth rejection, President Nixon nominates strict constitutional
constructionist G. Harrold Carswell, who is criticized by legal
scholars for his inexperience. Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska tries
to lend support when he argues, "Even if he is mediocre,
there are a lot of mediocre judges ... and they are entitled to
a little representation, aren't they?" Nonetheless, Carswell
faces a torrent of opposition due to his earlier strident views
of white supremacy and after three months of debate, is rejected
by the Senate, 45-51.
-- In the first year of his presidency, Ronald Reagan nominates
Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman to serve on the Supreme
Court. During her conformation hearings, O'Connor cautiously expresses
conservative views on an array of issues and declines to be pinned
down on the question of abortion. In a little over a month, the
Senate confirms her appointment, 99-0.
1987 -- President Reagan then
nominates conservative Robert Bork to replace moderate Justice
Lewis Powell. But Bork's outspoken writings and judicial record
on civil rights scare away conservative senators who fear losing
black votes. In addition, interest groups launch an unprecedented
media campaign highlighting Bork's civil rights record in the
South and environmental record in the West, heightening senators'
accountability to their constituency. The Senate rejects Bork,
1991 -- With the retirement
of Justice Thurgood Marshall, President George H.W. Bush nominates
the conservative Clarence Thomas, who would be the second black
man to serve on the high court. The vote on Thomas deadlocks in
the Senate Judiciary Committee. Three days before the Senate is
scheduled to vote, charges of sexual harassment against Thomas
by a former associate emerge. The nomination goes back to committee
and in three days of televised hearings, Thomas denies all allegations.
Two days after the second round of hearings, the Senate votes
to confirm him, 52-48.
Senate Art and History Office, Supreme
Court Historical Society, Congressional
Quarterly Press - the Future of the Supreme Court, NPR
- A history of Conflict in High Court Appointments, Oyez
U.S. Supreme Court Multimedia, Wikipedia
Defeated nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court