Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | May 29, 2009

Kentucky environmental attorney Sanders explains the judicial confirmation process for a federal judge.

On May 1, 2009, Associate Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his intent to retire when the Court’s session concludes later this year.  Justice Souter was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and the Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 90-9. 

Before his confirmation to the high Court, Souter was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, and the Attorney General of New Hampshire.  Justice Souter is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

On May 26, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the vacancy created by Justice Souter’s retirement.  Judge Sotomayor was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998.

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. 

Senators from the 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 signal their support for, or opposition to, a Committee hearing to learn more about the nominee’s background and experience. 

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. 

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.

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