Changing Senate Norms: Judicial Confirmations in a Nuclear Age
by Mark Owens, University of Texas at Tyler
The article looks back at the Senate’s response to the unexpected vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2016. The ultimate inaction of the Senate and public debate would suggest that the decision to extend the vacancy was strictly partisan. However, that narrative does not consider the signals that were sent by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and moderate legislators in the chamber.
The referral of the Supreme Court nomination to the Judiciary Committee preserved the opportunity for the Senate’s norms to continue. Democratic committee members were the first to host meetings with Judge Merrick Garland, while Republican senators deferred to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democratic senators hosted 43 senator-nominee meetings, however the decline of the meetings on the majority side halted the momentum of the confirmation process. Additionally, following the history of the Judiciary Committee there has been a growing rejection of the presumption that hearings will be held for nominees to lower court nominees. As part of the Reflections on 65 Years of the APSA Congressional Fellowship Program symposium, this article discusses why all 100 senators were not motivated to follow the norm of engaging with the nominee.