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“No Hints, No Forecasts, No Previews”: An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Nominee Candor from Harlan to Kagan


  • Dion Farganis,

  • Justin Wedeking

  • The authors wish to thank Wendy Martinek for comments on an earlier version of this article, Mark Ingles for wonderful research assistance, and Art Ward and Lori Ringhand for valuable research advice. We are indebted to the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Law & Society Review for their insightful comments and invaluable suggestions. Please direct correspondence to Dion Farganis, Department of Political Science, Elon University, CB-2333, Elon, NC 27244; e-mail:; or to Justin Wedeking, Department of Political Science, University of Kentucky, 1661 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40506; e-mail:


Criticism of Supreme Court confirmation hearings has intensified considerably over the past two decades. In particular, there is a growing sense that nominees are now less forthcoming and that the hearings have suffered as a result. In this article, we challenge that conventional wisdom. Based on a comprehensive content analysis of every question and answer in all of the modern confirmation hearings—nearly 11,000 in total—we find only a mild decline in the candor of recent nominees. Moreover, we find that senators ask more probing questions than in the past, and that nominees are now more explicit about their reasons when they choose not to respond—two factors that may be fueling the perception that evasiveness has increased in recent years. We close with a discussion of the normative implications of our findings as well as an outline for future research into this issue.