Battle over the Bench

Battle over the Bench: Senators, Interest Groups, and Lower Court Confirmations

Amy Steigerwalt
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Battle over the Bench
    Book Description:

    Who gets seated on the lower federal courts and why? Why are some nominees confirmed easily while others travel a long, hard road to confirmation? What role do senators and interest groups play in determining who will become a federal judge? The lower federal courts have increasingly become the final arbiters of the important political and social issues of the day. As a result, who gets seated on the bench has become a major political issue. InBattle over the Bench,Amy Steigerwalt argues that the key to understanding the dynamics of the lower court confirmation process is to examine the process itself. She offers a new analytic framework for understanding when nominations become contested, and shows when and how key actors can influence the fate of nominations and ultimately determine who will become a federal judge.

    Given the increasing salience of lower court decisions, it is not surprising that interest groups and partisan agendas play an important role. Steigerwalt inventories the means by which senators push through or block nominations, and why interest groups decide to support or oppose certain nominations. The politics of judicial confirmations do not end there, however. Steigerwalt also reveals how many nominees are blocked for private political reasons that have nothing to do with ideology, while senators may use their support for or opposition to nominees as bargaining chips to garner votes for their positions on unrelated issues. Battle over the Bench showcases the complex and, at times, hidden motivations driving the staffing of the federal bench.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2998-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Changing Tone of Lower Federal Court Confirmations
    (pp. 1-22)

    On May 9, 2001, President George W. Bush sent his first set of nominations for the lower federal courts to the Senate. This list included Texas Supreme Court justice Priscilla Owen, who was nominated to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Almost immediately, battle cries were heard from liberal judicial watchdog groups, pro-choice groups, and Senate Democrats. Owen’s offense? She had voted consistently to uphold restrictive abortion laws while on the Texas Supreme Court and had voted against every petition by a pregnant minor for a judicial bypass.¹

    By the end of the 107th Congress, more than one hundred groups...

  6. 1 WHAT MAKES A NOMINATION RUN INTO TROUBLE? Senators, Interest Groups, and the Four Tracks to Confirmation
    (pp. 23-48)

    The staffing of the federal judiciary has taken on enormous importance in recent decades as more and more people have realized the reach and consequences of judicial decisions. Especially with regard to the federal appeals courts—the thirteen circuit courts and the Supreme Court—the appointment of new judges can influence the formation of public policy for decades to come. These judges are increasingly called upon to decide the major policy and constitutional issues of the day. And, given their life tenure, these judges may put into law their views (and most likely the views of the appointing president) for...

  7. 2 DEATH TO NOMINEES: Senatorial Courtesy and the Ability to “Kill” Judicial Confirmations
    (pp. 49-66)

    According to the four tracks framework explicated in chapter 1, each nominee should be viewed as a train that follows a unique set of train tracks from nomination to confirmation. By conceptualizing the lower court confirmation process as a set of interconnected train tracks, we can better understand the different confirmation environments nominees may face. The four tracks framework also reveals which actors can influence confirmation outcomes and at what points in the process they are able to do so. As discussed in chapter 1, most nominations follow the noncontroversial track. But a significant percentage of nominations will at some...

  8. 3 “HERDING CATS”: Holds and Private Political Fights
    (pp. 67-94)

    Chapter 2 outlined the use of senatorial courtesy, an informal custom that allows home-state senators to block an objectionable judicial nominee from progressing past the nomination stage. This chapter begins our examination of what can happen to nominations once they receive home-state senator approval and begin to move through the confirmation process. It first explores the myriad of ways in which particular senators can delay judicial nominations at different stages throughout the confirmation process. These mechanisms make up the private political arsenal that senators may employ to influence confirmation outcomes. It then investigates the use of a parliamentary procedure by...

    (pp. 95-118)

    While considerable media and popular attention has been concentrated on the role outside interest groups play in the modern-day federal judicial confirmation process, in reality, we know relatively little about the activities of these groups. Conventional wisdom suggests that outside groups drive the process itself, setting the terms of the debate and dictating the activities of like-minded senators. For example, the cover of the April 8, 2002, edition of theNational Reviewfeatured a picture of then Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy attached to marionette strings with the headline, “Strings Attached: How Liberal Interest Groups Control Senate Democrats.” Similarly, Judge...

  10. 5 INTEREST GROUPS AND THE DECISION TO OBJECT: Sending Confirmations down the Public Partisan Track
    (pp. 119-148)

    Senators and their staffs require in-depth information on every single judicial nominee. Interest groups help fill this information gap by serving as an important informal source of information. When a nominee begins to move through the confirmation process, groups may decide to adopt a more active lobbying strategy and publicly object to the nominee. By publicly opposing a nominee, groups decisively turn the nomination onto the public partisan track.¹ Opposed nominees then face a concerted campaign to defeat their nomination and a long and rocky path to confirmation. Through interviews with the leaders of key judicial watchdog groups, this chapter...

  11. 6 WHITHER NOMINEES? The Fate of Nominations Sent down the Public Partisan Track
    (pp. 149-184)

    Chapters 4 and 5 outlined the important roles interest groups play in judicial confirmations. Chapter 4, based on interviews with Senate staff, highlighted groups’ information-transmission role. Because senators and their staff lack the resources to conduct in-depth investigations of each and every lower court nominee, groups serve a vital purpose by helping to fill this information gap. This information-transmission role occurs early on in the process. Once nominees begin to move through the process, groups need to decide whether to formally oppose judicial nominees and launch a campaign to defeat them. Chapter 5 explicated, based on interviews with group leaders,...

  12. CONCLUSION: What the Future Holds for Lower Court Nominations and the Senate Confirmation Process
    (pp. 185-198)

    This book tells the story of how presidents, senators, interest groups, and concerned citizens battle over who sits on the federal courts. In one sense, it is the story of how individual senators possess enormous power over the operation of the Senate and the fate of judicial nominees; in another sense it is the story of how mobilized activists and citizens play a significant role in determining who will be confirmed to the federal bench. In both cases, it is the story of how the key actors in American politics have all realized the enormous power federal courts wield and...

  13. APPENDIX A Data Collection Methodology
    (pp. 199-201)
  14. APPENDIX B Variable Descriptions and Measurements for Tobit Regressions
    (pp. 202-206)
  15. APPENDIX C Circuit Court Nominations Opposed by Interest Groups, 99th–109th Congresses (1985–2006)
    (pp. 207-208)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 209-236)
    (pp. 237-252)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 253-258)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)