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Presidential Capital and the Supreme Court Confirmation Process



OLS Regression of the Impact of President’s Public Statements on Senate Confirmation Votes


Number of Public Statements made by the President

Natural Log of Time Between Nomination and Senate Action

Year of Nomination


Number of Cases Adjusted R2

Coefficient (Standard Error)

.47* (.19)

  • -



  • -



98.52 (192.48)



*= p < .10.

Table 3 strongly confirms our hypothesis that when presidents publicly support their nominee the number of no votes cast is significantly fewer than the number Segal and Spaeth’s model predicts.31 Even when we account for the fact that a nomination may be a particularly difficult one, as well as for the year of nomi- nation, it is evident that the strategy to go public directly affects the likelihood

that a nominee will win.32

In the case of Clarence Thomas our model suggests

that President Bush’s 29 public statements in support of confirmation are associ- ated with a gain of six votes for Thomas over what the Segal/Spaeth model pre- dicts—which was enough to secure confirmation.33 The bottom line is that there is a definite relationship between a president’s strategy to go public and the fate of that nominee when the Senate finally takes action.


On January 30, 2003—almost two years after his initial nomination—the Senate Judiciary committee forwarded the nomination of Miguel A. Estrada,

31 Robert Bork had to be excluded from this model because by any diagnostic measure he is an influential outlier. For an explanation, and for our outlier analysis, see Appendix 4 (available at www.journalofpolitics.org).

32 Some might argue that we have underspecified the model because we did not include such vari- ables as nominee qualifications or presidential capital. However, as footnote 29 indicates, all of these variables are included on the left side of the equation because they make up Segal and Spaeth’s pre- dicted Senate votes. Thus, we cannot include them on the right side of the equation.

33 Segal and Spaeth predicted 56 votes against Thomas while only 48 actually occurred. Admit- tedly, we cannot determine definitively whether Bush’s public strategy directly led to the Thomas con- firmation. However, as we argue in the theory section, we believe the Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process does not involve a great deal of backroom dealings or compromise after the nomination occurs.

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