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Presidential Capital and the Supreme Court - page 6 / 21





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Timothy R. Johnson and Jason M. Roberts

Senate plays a key role in the president’s decision of whom to place on the short list.

Other theoretical and empirical work explores the president’s explicit choice of nominees. This research focuses on the spatial dynamics of the confirmation game and finds that the alignment of the pivotal players (the President, the Senate, and the Court median) along an ideological continuum allows scholars to accu- rately predict the ideology of a president’s chosen nominee (Moraski and Shipan 1999). Additionally, scholars have learned a great deal about what drives aggre- gate Senate action on Supreme Court nominees, as well as what drives individ- ual senators’ confirmation votes. Binder and Maltzman (2002) suggest that the presence of divided government slows the confirmation process for lower court nominees, while Segal (1987) finds that confirmation battles are as much about partisanship as they are about a struggle between the Senate and the president. Further, Massaro (1990) observes that ideological differences between the nominee and the Senate play a major role in almost all failed nominations. In line with Nemacheck and Wahlbeck’s (1998) findings, this is an important point for us because it indicates that the president must consider how the Senate will react to the ideology of a chosen Supreme Court nominee.

To more explicitly understand Senate action, Cameron, Cover, and Segal (1990) and Segal, Cameron, and Cover (1992) use spatial models to analyze indi- vidual level confirmation votes. Their initial findings (1990) indicate that sena- tors’ votes are a product of the spatial distance between the nominee and a senator, a nominee’s qualifications, and the political strength of the president. Segal, Cameron, and Cover (1992) correct for a shortfall in their earlier work by includ- ing a measure of interest group involvement in their model. Importantly, they continue to find strong support for the hypothesis that senators’ confirmation votes largely depend on the spatial distance between a nominee and the ideology of a senators’ constituency.

Overall, this literature demonstrates that the ideological relationships between the nominee and the Senate, and president and the Senate, plays a key role in the choices that presidents make during the Supreme Court nomination process. Specifically, Nemacheck and Wahlbeck (1998) and Segal (1987) find that presi- dents consider how the Senate will react to their choice of Supreme Court nom- inees. Further, Moraski and Shipan (1999), Segal, Cameron, and Cover (1992), and Cameron, Cover, and Segal (1990) use spatial models to explore how the ide- ological relationship between presidents, nominees, and the Senate drives who wins confirmation battles.8

8 Readers may wonder whether our focus on the Supreme Court is generalizable. Indeed, the pres- ident is much more likely to nominate lower court judges than Supreme Court justices. However, because we are interested in the most intense and, according to all presidents, the most important of their nominations, we choose to focus on the Supreme Court nomination process. Additionally, we believe the theoretical focus of our paper suits the Supreme Court nomination process best. We do realize, especially in light of recent failed nominations (i.e., Miguel Estrada), that some lower court nominees may garner support from the president similar to Supreme Court nominees. But this depends

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