How Supreme Court Appointments Work


Independent Judges
The carving on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building reads 'Equal Justice Under Law.' Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Even if the president gets his or her ideal nominee confirmed by the Senate, there are no guarantees that the justice will decide cases in the way the president hopes. Why would justices fail to cooperate with the president's wishes? Because that's their job.

Although the president appoints the justice, there is no political loyalty owed to the president. The Supreme Court is equal in power to the executive branch. The job of the justices is to weigh the law against the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, not to support any one political ideology. Obviously, the personal opinions of the justices come into play, and in many cases, these coincide with those of the president. When that happens, the president gets exactly what he or she intended — a Supreme Court justice who supports the president's doctrines and beliefs.

However, when a justice enters the Supreme Court building, which bears the motto "Equal Justice Under Law," even those who were certain they would bring the weight of their views to the position and reshape the law are often impressed by the honor and responsibility with which they have been entrusted. Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, "As a member of this court I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard." Many justices have felt the same. The justices who are regarded as the greatest in history are those who were able to examine cases logically, understand both sides of an issue and render judgment based on facts and the law rather than their personal feelings.

Perhaps the best example of judicial independence occurred during the Watergate scandal. The Supreme Court decided that President Nixon had to turn over his White House audio recordings to investigators, discarding his contention that executive privilege should allow him to keep the tapes private. Three of the justices who sided against Nixon had been appointed by him.

For more information on Supreme Court appointments and related topics, check out the links that follow.

Last editorial update on Oct 9, 2018 11:31:18 am.

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Sources

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  • Hogue, Henry. "Supreme Court Nominations Not Confirmed, 1789-August 2010." Congressional Research Service. (June 28, 2018) http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL31171.pdf
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