How the Confirmation Process Works

1)     The confirmation process begins when the President selects a nominee for a vacant judgeship.  Traditionally, the President selects a nominee in consultation with the Senators who represent the state in which the judge will serve.  Senators typically have their own methods of evaluating potential nominees, and can signal their approval or disapproval of a nominee through the blue slip process.

2)     The President then refers the nominee to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Judiciary Committee evaluates the nominee by gathering information, running a background check, and reviewing the record and qualifications of the nominee.

3)     The Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nominee.  Witnesses present testimony on the nominee.  Some of the witnesses favor and others oppose the nomination.  The nominee also answers questions from the Committee.  Senators who oppose a nominee can attempt to delay or derail a nomination by requesting additional information or additional time as a hearing approaches.

4)     The Judiciary Committee votes on whether to report the nominee to the full Senate.  If the Committee does report the nominee, they can submit the nomination with a favorable recommendation, an unfavorable recommendation, or no recommendation at all.  Senators who oppose the nomination can attempt to delay a nomination by using procedural tactics to prevent a committee vote.

5)     The full Senate has the opportunity to debate the nomination.  The Senate debates until a Senator asks for unanimous consent to end debate and move to a vote on the nominee.  If unanimous consent is granted, the Senate votes on the nominee, with a majority vote required for confirmation.  Any Senator can refuse to grant unanimous consent.  This situation is known as a hold.

6)     If any Senator objects to unanimous consent, then a cloture motion must be filed in order to end debate and move to a vote.  Cloture motions for judicial and executive nominations require 51 votes to pass.  If 51 Senators support cloture, the full Senate will vote on the nomination, with a majority required for confirmation.  If fewer than 51 Senators support cloture, debate continues and a confirmation vote cannot occur.  This is known as a filibuster. Prior to the November 2013 Senate rules change, all cloture motions required 60 votes to pass. Now, only cloture motions for legislation and nominees to the Supreme Court require 60 votes.

7)     Once the Senate holds a confirmation vote, with a majority voting to confirm, the nominee becomes a Federal Judge.


Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress has produced a graphical guide to this process, as well.

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