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How the Supreme Court confirmation process works

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The confirmation process for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is set to begin Monday.

It's part of an intense process where judicial nominees respond to both written and in-person questioning in hopes of being approved by the Senate. Here is how that process usually works.

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Background investigation

Prior to holding a hearing on a nominee, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducts an extensive investigation. According to the Congressional Research Service, this typically includes a questionnaire dealing with biographical, professional, and financial information. On top of this, the FBI conducts a background check and submits a confidential report to the committee. The American Bar Association also has a practice of rating federal judicial nominees with a mark of Well Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified, and notifying the committee of their determination.

In addition to this process, Supreme Court nominees often meet privately with senators to discuss their nomination.

Committee hearing

The next step is a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which often lasts four or five days. During the hearing, a nominee testifies on their own behalf and other witnesses will likely present testimony in support of or in opposition to her nomination. Senators typically ask questions related to past decisions a nominee has issued as a judge, political viewpoints they may have expressed that relate to a pertinent judicial issue, their overall judicial and constitutional philosophy, and any questionable aspects of their background.

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In addition to their answers at the hearing, the nominee also provides written answers for the record in response to additional questions senators may submit to them in writing.

Since 1992, nominees have also sat for closed-door sessions with the committee to answer any particularly sensitive questions they may have that could have arisen from their confidential background check report.

Committee recommendation

Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the committee takes a vote on the nominee and determines whether or not to recommend the nomination to the full Senate. If a nominee is not recommended by the committee, they may still be confirmed by the full Senate. Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed despite the Judiciary Committee being split 7-7 on whether to recommend him and then voting 13-1 to send his nomination to the Senate with no recommendation.

Senate debate and vote

Following the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote, the nomination goes before the full Senate. Senators then engage in debate on the Senate floor over the nomination before they hold a vote to end debate. Until recently, the Senate required 60 Senators to vote to end debate, but the Senate changed the rules in 2017 so that only a simple majority is now needed.

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After the Senate votes to end debate, they then vote on whether to confirm the nominee. A simple majority is needed in order to confirm a justice to the Supreme Court.

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