The changing dynamics of senate voting on supreme court nominees

L. Epstein, R. Lindstädt, J.A. Segal, C. Westerland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Citations (Scopus)


A near-universal consensus exists that the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987 triggered a new regime in the Senate's voting over presidential nominees—a regime that deemphasizes ethics, competence, and integrity and stresses instead politics, philosophy, and ideology. Nonetheless, this conventional wisdom remains largely untested.

In this paper we explore the extent to which the Bork nomination has affected the decisions of U.S. senators. To do so, we modernize, update, and backdate the standard account of confirmation politics offered by Cameron, Cover, and Segal (1990) to cover all candidates for the Supreme Court from Hugo L. Black in 1937 through John G. Roberts, Jr. in 2005.

Our results confirm conventional wisdom about the Bork nomination but with two notable caveats. First, while the importance of ideology has reached new heights, the Senate's emphasis on this factor had its genesis some three decades earlier, in the 1950s. Second, while ideology is of paramount concern to senators, a candidate's professional merit also remains a significant determinant of success in the Senate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


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