Just the Facts

Five Facts on Notable Supreme Court Nominations

By No Labels
October 4, 2018 | Blog

Over the past several weeks America has watched as one of the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings has played out in front on the nation.  Allegations of sexual assault levied by Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh have sparked intense debate and brought about an FBI investigation.  Here are five facts on notable Supreme Court nominations:

Before a nominee is confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, they must undergo a stringent vetting process by the United States Senate

Throughout history, the Senate has officially received 162 Supreme Court justice nominations. However, a nomination to the Supreme Court does not guarantee that one will sit on the bench. Over the years, 118 of these justices were confirmed and served on the court. Seven more were confirmed but declined to serve—the most recent being Roscoe Conkling in 1882. Several nominees have not even received a hearing, including Harriet Miers, a George W. Bush nominee and Merrick Garland, a nominee of President Barack Obama.

William Howard Taft is the only person to serve as both president and chief justice of the United States

William Howard Taft served as America’s 27th president; however, it has been reported that Taft, who once declared, “I love judges and I love courts. They are my ideals on earth…” was most proud of his tenure as chief justice of the United States, where he served from 1921 to 1930.  Interestingly, despite Taft’s love for the judicial system and his desire to serve on the court, he turned down two offers to serve on the Supreme Court from President Theodore Roosevelt between 1901 and 1903.  At the time, Taft was working as governor of the Philippines and did not want to leave his post until he felt his job there had been accomplished.  However, approximately two decades after leaving the Philippines and a decade after departing the White House, Taft accepted President Warren Harding’s nomination to the court on June 30, 1921. He was confirmed the same day by a vote of 60-4 in the Senate.

Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to the court in 1967, making him the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court

A native of Baltimore, Maryland and the great-grandson of slaves, Thurgood Marshall had enjoyed a long and incredibly successful career before his nomination to the Supreme Court. Shortly after graduating from Howard University law in 1933, Marshall joined the legal division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and in 1938 was named the organization’s chief legal counsel. In that position he argued 32 cases in front of the Supreme Court over, winning 29 of them, including Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court.  With the nomination coming at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Johnson described his decision as “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.” Marshall was confirmed on August 30, 1967 by a vote of 69-11.

Robert Bork’s failed nomination to the Supreme Court sparked intense partisan debate

Robert Bork first rose to national notoriety during former President Richard Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre, in which the president ordered the leaders of the Justice Department to fire the special prosecutor assigned to investigate the Watergate scandal.  The top two Justice Department officials —the attorney general and deputy attorney general — resigned in protest. However, Bork, who was the number three official in the department, obeyed the president and fired the special prosecutor.  Bork went on to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit where his originalist ideals—which call for judges to use the original intent of the Constitution’s framers to inform his or her decision—led to several controversial rulings, including an opinion that opposed the 1964 civil rights law that required hotels, restaurant and other businesses to serve people of all races. When Judge Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 many of these controversial rulings were used against him and led the Senate to reject his nomination by a vote of 42-58.

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first female justice appointed to the Supreme Court

On August 19,1981 President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, a judge on the Arizona State Court of Appeals, to be his first nominee for the Supreme Court.  O’Connor, a native of El Paso, Texas graduated from Stanford University as both an undergrad and law student.  While she excelled  academically, she was forced to work without pay for the county attorney of California’s San Mateo region just to get her career of the ground. Despite significant challenges to woman in law, O’Connor was able to steadily move up the judicial ladder and she assumed her position on the Arizona State Court of Appeals in 1979.  While O’Connor’s nomination to the Supreme Court received blowback from many conservatives, who wanted President Reagan to appoint a judge who was unequivocally opposed to abortion, Justice O’Connor was approved unanimously by the Senate.

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