SCOTUS Nomination Timing

After yesterday’s news about the death of Antonin Scalia’s death, the conversation almost immediately turned to whether or not President Obama should or would nominate a new candidate.  There’s obviously a lot being said about this right now by better legal and political minds than mine, but I did start wondering what kind of timing there normally was between Supreme Court nominations and Presidential Elections.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I was able to find a list of all 160 Supreme Court nominations that have occurred since 1789. I combined this with a list of election dates, and calculated the difference between the day the person was submitted to the Senate and the next presidential election.  I graphed days vs election year, and color coded the dots with the outcome of the nomination.

A few notes:

  1. I didn’t fully vet the Wikipedia data. If there’s an error in that data, it’s in this chart.
  2. All day calculations for years prior to the 1848 election are approximate. Prior to that, states had a 34 day window prior to the first Wednesday in December to hold their election. I gave them a default date of November 3rd for their year, which could be off in some cases.
  3. There were a few cases in which presidents attempted to nominate someone after the election but before the next inauguration. If they got re-elected, I counted that nomination from the election that would take place 4 years later. If they were leaving office, I gave them a negative number.
  4. 310 days is approximately the number of days between January 1st of a year and the general election, so I put a reference line there.
  5. These nominations include Chief Justice nominations….and those nominees may have been active justices when they were nominated.

With that out of the way, here you go:

Days to election

Rutheford B Hayes sets the record for getting things in under the wire, as he nominated William Burnham Woods in late December of 1880. He actually also nominated Stanley Matthews in January of that year, but it didn’t go to a vote. Matthews was renominated and confirmed a few months later by Garfield.

Overall only about 15% of nominations ever have come in this close to the election, and the success rate of those nominations is a little less than half. To compare, those nominees submitted before January 1st of the election year have about an 80% all time success rate. Obviously we haven’t even dealt with this in a while, but it’s interesting to see that historically this was more common than in recent years.

This could get interesting kids!

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