How Are Supreme Court Justices Appointed?

By Jen Gehring
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The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, serves as the final appeals court in our judicial system. The court often decides cases of national significance on issues like the constitutionality of same-sex marriage laws. The court is composed of eight associate justices and one chief justice. The justices are nominated by the president, but undergo a thorough Senate confirmation process. Once approved, justices may serve for life.

Selecting a Nominee

When a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court, the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, will appoint a new justice. The appointment process for selecting a new Supreme Court justice begins with a presidential nomination. While agencies such as the Department of Justice may offer recommendations on potential candidates, only the president has the authority to make an official nomination. Once the president announces his choice, the Senate initiates confirmation proceedings.

Senate Confirmation Hearings

The Senate confirmation hearings begin in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducts a thorough background check and examines the nominee’s published works, significant litigation matters, political affiliations and any potential conflicts of interest. The committee convenes a hearing where members discuss the nominee's qualifications and ask questions regarding his experience. The committee then votes on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate for consideration. If a nomination proceeds, the full Senate will debate the nominee’s qualifications and issues such as how he might interpret the U.S. Constitution when ruling on politically controversial issues such as immigration laws. Once debate concludes, the Senate votes on whether to confirm the nomination. If approved, it sends a confirmation resolution to the president. The nominee is sworn in by taking two oaths: an oath required by the Judicial Act of 1789 and a constitutional oath required under Article IV of the Constitution. These oaths are typically administered by the chief justice or highest-ranking associate justice.