“The bizarre case of John G. Roberts”
While the Senate took only seven days to confirm Kenneth Starr, who later served as special prosecutor investigating Clinton, to the Court of Appeals in 1983, over a year went by before senators agreed to the appointment of the Clinton nominee Richard Paez. Then there is the bizarre case of John G. Roberts. Originally nominated by George H.W. Bush in 1991 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, considered second only to the Supreme Court in terms of its legal importance, Roberts never received a hearing. The current Bush renominated him in 2001 but once again the Committee chose not to schedule a hearing. Finally, after yet a third nomination, the Committee took up Roberts’s candidacy on January 29, 2003 and again on April 30, 2003. Perhaps owing to objections registered by several interest groups over Roberts’s allegedly conservative positions on abortion and the environment, not to mention other controversial candidates considered on the same day, the hearing was a near marathon, starting at 9:30 am and lasting until about 9 pm. Even after the proceedings concluded, Committee members continued to pepper Roberts with (written) questions. The Senate did eventually confirm Roberts—eleven years after his first nomination.
Still, we hasten to note, the Robertses, Paezes and Thomases are the exceptions, not the rules. Since the Truman presidency, chairs have scheduled, and relatively promptly at that, hearings for most of the candidates—about 85 percent. Even now, and despite accusations to the contrary, the vast majority of President Bush’s nominees have had their day before the Judiciary Committee.
- Lee Epstein and Jeffrey Segal
From their forthcoming book Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments