Archives for September 2020

Over the past 40 years, the average time for the Senate to reach a final vote on a Supreme Court justice nominee has been 72 days — nearly twice the time left before the 2020 general election.

The modern process of confirming Supreme Court justices has three major stages: First, the president chooses and announces their nominee for the court. Second, the nominee is exhaustively vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the final stage, the whole Senate debates and votes to confirm or reject the nominee.

Historically, senators have avoided filibustering the confirmation process, and a change to Senate rules in 2017 effectively ended the practice by allowing debate to end with a simple majority vote. As a result, the party that controls the Senate can complete the entire process without any votes from the minority party — and in recent years, confirmation votes have increasingly fallen along party lines.

Here are the steps in the Senate process to confirm a Supreme Court Justice

1. Initial research on nominee

Prior to a hearing, Judiciary committee members review information about the nominee from several sources, including a detailed questionnaire for the nominee drafted by the committee.

At this stage, the nominee will typically meet individually with members of the committee and other interested senators in their offices.

2. Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee

The committee will eventually hold a public hearing to receive the nominee’s testimony. Typically, the hearing is held approximately 40 days after the nomination is first made.

Senators ask questions in multiple sessions spanning four or five days, with the option to hold additional hearings for controversial nominees.

3. Final report from the committee

Approximately one week after the hearing, the committee meets in an open session to determine its recommendation for the Senate.

Depending on how the members vote, the nominee may be reported “favorably” or “unfavorably.” Regardless of the outcome, the committee typically allows the nomination to move to a full Senate vote.

4. Majority Leader sets schedule for debate

Typically the Majority Leader consults with the minority leader to determine the timing and length of the proceedings, so that the process can begin via unanimous consent.

If unanimous consent cannot be secured, the majority leader can make a filibuster-proof motion to begin the process.

5. Senators debate on the floor

Unless the minority party agrees to a shorter schedule, the nomination will be debated for a minimum of 30 hours on the Senate floor.

Each senator who takes the floor gives a speech explaining why they are voting to confirm or reject.

6. Full Senate vote for confirmation

Once debate ends, senators may vote on the nominee. Since 1967, every Senate vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice has been a roll call vote — meaning each senator’s vote is formally recorded. Historically, most confirmation votes have resulted in an overwhelming majority in favor. However, in recent years, party-line votes with a substantial minority voting to reject have become more common.

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Ranked-choice voting allows citizens to rank their candidate preferences on an election ballot instead of voting for a single candidate. If one candidate does not initially win a majority, competitors with the fewest votes are eliminated from the race and their voters’ second choices are applied to the tallies of the remaining candidates until one candidate achieves a majority.

According to the group FairVote, two states have 2020 ballot initiatives to install a statewide ranked-choice system. Alaska’s Ballot Measure 2 would replace partisan primaries with an open primary in which the top four finishers advance to a ranked-choice general election, while Massachusetts’ Question 2 would retain partisan primaries but implement ranked-choice voting in both primaries and the general election starting in 2022.

Maine’s state Supreme Court voted on Sept. 8 to allow ranked-choice voting to appear on 2020 presidential election ballots but has not decided whether a ballot initiative challenging the use of ranked-choice voting will actually keep voters from selecting candidates that way.

Which states have ranked-choice voting?

How Ranked-Choice Voting Works

1. Voters rank their candidate preferences on ballots

Voters can choose to rank candidates, indicating on a ballot which person is their first choice, second choice, third choice, etc., for election to office.

2. First-choice candidate votes on ballots are tallied

If one of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the first-preference votes, that candidate wins the election.

3. Second-choice votes of losing candidates are distributed among winning candidates

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the candidates with the lowest percentages of votes are eliminated and their supporters’ second-choice selections are allocated to the remaining candidates on the ballot. This vote-redistribution process continues until one candidate reaches over 50 percent of the cast votes.

Pros and Cons of Ranked-Choice Voting


Could ensure that a winning candidate has a majority of votes

In elections in which there are several candidates, ranked-choice voting allows voters to support like-minded competitors to defeat an unfavored candidate. Fractured opposition can result in an unfavored candidate winning an election even if most voters oppose them.

Voters’ ballots count, even if their first choice loses

Even if your first-choice candidate loses, your vote still counts toward electing a candidate of your choice.


Voters’ choices may not count if all of them are eliminated

If a voter does not rank all of the candidates’ names on a ballot, leaving some selections blank, and if all of the voter’s choices are eliminated, that could result in the ballot not being counted at all.

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This post is excerpted from a DataPoint infographic that was initially made available to POLITICO Pro Premium subscribers on September 10, 2020.

If you would like to learn more about POLITICO Pro Premium, you can visit this page.