News & Events

Supreme Court Nominations: 1980 – Present

On Saturday, October 6, 2018, Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to serve as the 102nd Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In light of discussion on how Kavanaugh’s confirmation process compared to others throughout history, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at nominations made over the last forty years.

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1789, 163 nominations have been submitted to the U.S. Senate. Since the Reagan administration, there have been 18 nominations, including two nominations for Chief Justice John Roberts. Of these 18 nominations, 14 were confirmed; one was rejected; two were withdrawn; and one was never taken to a vote.


Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice, received the highest number of confirmation votes ever recorded with the U.S. Senate (99-0). Her confirmation process took only 33 days, the shortest process within the last forty years. Four other justices in recent history received over 90 votes, including Justice Antonin Scalia (98-0), Justice Anthony Kennedy (97-0), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (96-3), and Justice David Souter (90-9).


In September 2005, John G. Roberts Jr. was sworn in as the 17th chief justice of the United States. Interestingly, Roberts’ confirmation process began in July 2005 when he was nominated as an associate justice. Upon Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s death, President George W. Bush nominated Roberts to fill the chief justice position. Technically, Roberts’ confirmation process as chief justice was the shortest at 23 days; however, the entirety of his confirmation process totaled 62 days.


Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation process took 99 days, the longest process to confirm in recent history. Robert Bork’s unsuccessful nomination lasted 108 days.


Robert Bork, a federal appeals court judge and President Reagan’s third nomination to the court, received the largest vote margin of any failed Supreme Court nominee in history. Bork’s legal writings and judicial philosophy led to a Democratic-controlled Senate voting against Bork’s confirmation by a vote of 58-42.


Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the slimmest vote margin since Justice Stanley Matthews’ 24-23 confirmation in 1881. The 50-48 vote was largely along party lines, with one Democrat voting yes.


Merrick Garland, President Obama’s third nominee to the court, was the only nominee in recent history to have no action taken on his nomination. Garland was nominated in March 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia; however, the Senate never voted on his nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed confirming during a presidential election year and said the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the president elected in November 2016. In January 2017, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed by the Senate 65 days later in a 54-45 vote.


Two of President George W. Bush’s nominees withdrew their nomination, though for very different reasons. President Bush withdrew John Roberts’ nomination to fill the seat vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor so that he could fill the chief justice position. Bush’s second nominee to fill O’Connor’s seat, Harriet Miers, withdrew after 21 days. Miers, who had served as White House counsel and had no prior experience as a judge, faced intense scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats. Associate Justice Samuel Alito, President Bush’s third nomination to fill O’Connor’s seat, was confirmed by a 58-42 vote.