When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on Feb. 13, numbers began flooding the news: How many other justices had died while in office? How many presidents had nominated successors in an election year? How long had a vacancy been left unfilled?
At the heart of the questions was whether there was any reason to deny a president, with 342 days left in his final term, the chance to fill the vacant seat. A change could alter the ideological composition of the court, something Senate Republicans intend to prevent. Were the circumstances unprecedented?
For the most part, the answer is no. Forty-nine Supreme Court justices, including Justice Scalia, have died while on the bench. Sixteen presidents have submitted nominees during election years. And the longest vacancy on the court in the modern era lasted 391 days. The longest ever lasted 841. In each case, failed nominations were to blame.
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What is different about the current situation is the influence of ideology on the nominating process. More interest groups want to throw in their two cents, and scholars who have studied the confirmation process believe a nominee’s ideology influences senators’ votes nearly as much as the nominee’s perceived qualifications.
“Ideology has become much more dominant than in the past,” said Lee Epstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied the phenomenon.
The result is that the confirmation process has slowed significantly.Read the rest of the story HERE.
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