Who Consents? Competing Pivots in Federal Judicial Selection


  • The authors wish to thank Shelly Goldman, Eric Lawrence, Keith Krehbiel, Larry Rothenberg, and Chuck Shipan for comments and advice, and Matt Jacobsmeier, Alan Murphy, and Molly Reynolds for research assistance.

David M. Primo is assistant professor of political science, University of Rochester, Harkness Hall 333, Rochester, NY 14627-0146 (david.primo@rochester.edu). Sarah A. Binder is professor of political science at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (sbinder@brookings.edu). Forrest Maltzman is professor of political science, George Washington University, 440 Monroe Hall, 2115 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20052 (forrest@gwu.edu).


The salience of judicial appointments in contemporary American politics has precipitated a surge of scholarly interest in the dynamics of advice and consent in the U.S. Senate. In this article, we compare alternative pivotal politics models of the judicial nominations process, each capturing a different set of potential veto players in the Senate. We use these spatial models to guide empirical analysis of rejection patterns in confirmation contests for the lower federal courts. Using data on the outcomes of all nominations to the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Courts between 1975 and 2006, we show that models incorporating the preferences of the majority party median and the filibuster pivots best account for confirmation patterns we observe at the appellate and trial court levels, while advice and consent for trial courts has more recently been influenced by home-state senators.