How Long Does The Average Supreme Court Confirmation Take?
When President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993, the process took just 42 days — but that’s unusually quick.
The race to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat is underway in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he would announce his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday, Sept. 26. That will be 39 days before Election Day.
The average Supreme Court confirmation takes about 70 days, from presidential nomination to Senate vote, according to data from the Congressional Research Service. The longest confirmation took about four months, and the shortest took just 19 days.
After President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis to the court in January 1916, it took roughly four months for the Senate to approve his nomination. In 1975, Justice John Paul Stevens’ confirmation took just 19 days, which has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confident that Trump’s pick could be confirmed by Election Day. “Justice Stevens’ entire confirmation process could have been played out twice between now and November 3rd,” McConnell said in a Senate session on Sept. 21. Ginsburg’s confirmation in 1993 was actually on the shorter end, at 42 days.
The timing can vary because getting confirmed as a Supreme Court justice is a multi-step process. First, a president announces his choice for the role, usually after consulting with senators and advisors. The nomination is then sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–SC). It usually takes about a month for the committee to gather necessary information, like FBI intelligence, before they hold a hearing. For Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for example, there was a period of about two months between his July 9, 2018 nomination and the subsequent Sept. 4 hearing, in part because the committee requested a large number of documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House and because Congress goes on recess in August. The hearing itself can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
After the hearing concludes, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes. If the candidate has their recommendation, they send the nominee to the full Senate chamber for debate. That debate usually lasts about 10 days. Then they take a vote. In the case of Justice Kavanaugh, for example, the full chamber voted about a week after the Judiciary Committee moved his nomination to the body.
A simple majority vote is required for the candidate to be confirmed, just 51 out of 100 senators. In the case of a 50-50 tie, the vice president will cast the tie-breaking vote.
This confirmation process to replace Justice Ginsburg will be shadowed by President Obama’s unsuccessful 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. Although Justice Antonin Scalia died nine months ahead of the presidential election, on Feb. 13, 2016, McConnell effectively blocked Obama’s nomination of Garland. "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said at the time, according to CNN. He refused to hold confirmation hearings. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." But that was 2016. He’s singing a different tune these days.
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