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Judicial Nominations and Confirmations

For information about the Supreme Court, click here.

Judicial nominations for all Article III courts that are sent to the Senate for consideration by the President are referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  These include nominations for the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, and the Court of International Trade.

Pursuant to the Constitution, nominations for the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals and District Courts are made by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Potential nominees are sometimes identified and recommended by members of Congress.  Nominees confirmed by the Senate are appointed for lifetime terms.  After a nomination is received by the Senate and referred to the Judiciary Committee, the Committee typically conducts a confirmation hearing for each nominee.  Before a hearing can be scheduled in the Committee, however, nominees are expected to complete a comprehensive questionnaire.  In light of their interest in nominees from their home state, and to encourage consultation, Senators from a nominee's home state are also invited to participate in the process.  They are provided a "blue slip" by the Committee, by which they can approve moving the nominee through the Committee process.  It is important to note, however, that the return of a positive "blue slip" is not a commitment by either home state Senator to support or oppose, a pending nomination.  The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary also provides an evaluation of the professional qualifications of a judicial nominee.  These ratings provide an evaluation of a nominee's integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.  They are not an evaluation of a nominee's philosophy or ideology.

During a hearing, judicial nominees engage in a question and answer session with members of the Judiciary Committee.  After the hearing, Committee members may send written follow-up questions to the nominee.  After the completion of any follow-up questions, a nomination can then be listed for Committee consideration during an Executive Business Meeting.  Should the Committee order a nomination reported, the nomination is placed on the Senate's Executive Calendar where it would await consideration by the full Senate.  If a majority of the Senate votes in favor of a nomination, the President is notified of the Senate's action, and the nomination is confirmed.

There are a total of 875 Article III judgeships nationwide.  New judgeships are established through legislation proposed, approved and enacted by Congress.  There are 13 judicial circuits in the United States, each with a U.S. Court of Appeals.  Within the 13 judicial circuits there are 89 districts.  Pending cases in federal court originate first in the district courts.  Following a ruling by the district courts, a defendant or plaintiff may appeal the ruling to the Appellate Court.  In a limited number of cases, the Supreme Court decides to consider a case following a decision by the Appellate Court.  The Supreme Court begins its term on the first Monday in October, and typically adjourns in June.

For more information about judicial nominations, judicial vacancies, and the confirmation process, visit the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.


Did You Know?  Harlan Fiske Stone was the first Supreme Court nominee to testify at a Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1925.  John Harlan was only the fourth nominee to testify (1955).  Harlan's 1955 confirmation marked the beginning of the current practice of each Supreme Court nominee testifying before the Judiciary Committee.

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