Scholarship and background on Supreme Court nominations

by Kris Turner

Photo courtesy of

With the sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13th, there is now an extra layer of importance added to President Obama’s final year in office, or perhaps to the first year in office for his successor. While there are many opinions about the forthcoming nomination (many many many opinions), I thought it helpful to compile a brief list of resources that discuss the process of a presidential nomination of a Supreme Court Justice and the approval (or not) of the nomination.

Obviously, there has not yet been much written about the most recent vacancy (with one notable exception that I’ll discuss below), but some of the background and statistics on previous nominations may help shed some light on this hot topic for librarians that are asked questions about this next round of politically-charged Supreme Court drama.

History of Nominations

To begin, some users may want to learn more about past Supreme Court nominations. Our dear friends at Hein Online have a great collection that covers both primary and secondary material about just that: History of Supreme Court Nomination (you’ll need access to Hein Online to see this collection). Hein provides the primary materials for nominations back to Louis Brandeis, scholarly articles about the judiciary, a bibliography and external links (including a link to the Georgetown Law Library guide to Supreme Court nominations, another useful resource that includes details about the most recent nominations…and is probably having a new page added to it soon!)

CRS Reports

There have been several government publications on the topic as well, including two relatively recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports. Both can be found freely online and do most of the leg work in compiling data and background on nominations through 2010.

Other government sites

The US Senate page also has a comprehensive list of all Supreme Court nominations, and whether they were confirmed, withdrawn, declined, rejected, or no action was taken.

The Law Library of Congress also has informative pages on both Supreme Court Nominations and Withdrawn/Not Confirmed candidates.

Scholarly articles

Of course, primary materials are all well and good, but secondary resources can really flesh out the ins-and-outs of the process. I’ve listed a few scholarly articles that I thought were enlightening, but this list is by no means comprehensive (and may require access to view).


I did find some good books that delved into Supreme Court nominations to one extent or another as well. These are all a little bit older, but do provide context for the current process. All the links below are to the Worldcat records, so hopefully everyone can get their hands on a book that looks worthwhile.

The Upcoming Battle

Lastly, one paper has already been published (on SSRN) about the forthcoming nomination battle: Memorandum on Supreme Court Vacancies and Confirmations During Presidential Election Years.

The paper examines previous Supreme Court nominations that took place in election years, and the outcomes of those nominations. Whether history will repeat itself and President Obama will successfully nominate a Justice remains to be seen.

Hopefully this list gives you a good amount of information for users who are curious about the background on Supreme Court nominations, especially ones that take place during a politically contentious time. If you know of any other great resources, make them known in the comments!


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