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Delaying Justice(s): A Duration Analysis of Supreme Court Confirmations


  • We would like to thank Dan Fletcher, Chris Logli, and Marc Parrino for their helpful research assistance, Nolan McCarty and Keith Poole for sharing data with us, Kathy Bawn, Sarah Binder, Fred Boehmke, Cary Covington, Doug Dion, Matt Gabel, Roger Hartley, Forrest Maltzman, Linda Maule, Dan Morey, Tim Nokken, P. S. Ruckman, Gary Segura, and seminar participants at Texas A&M University for helpful comments and discussions, and Matt Gabel for suggesting this topic in the first place.

Charles R. Shipan is Professor of Political Science, 341 Schaeffer Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1409 ( Megan L. Shannon is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, 341 Schaeffer Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1409 (


Presidents traditionally have had great success when nominating justices to the Supreme Court, with confirmation being the norm and rejection being the rare exception. While the confirmation process usually ends with the nominee taking a seat on the Court, however, there is a great deal of variance in the amount of time it takes the Senate to act. To derive a theoretical explanation of this underlying dynamic in the confirmation process, we draw on a spatial model of presidential nominations to the Court. We then employ a hazard model to test this explanation, using data on all Supreme Court nominations and confirmations since the end of the Civil War. Our primary finding is that the duration of the confirmation process increases as the ideological distance between the president and the Senate increases. We also find evidence that suggests that the duration increases for critical nominees and chief justices and decreases for older nominees, current and previous senators, and nominees with prior experience on state and federal district courts.

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