Judge Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has just begun to make the initial visits to key Senators that are part of the confirmation process. The Democrats have already signaled that they are prepared for a tough fight but history is on Judge Gorsuch’s side.
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For starters, let’s acknowledge that Gorsuch is certainly a conservative judge, as has been documented by a number of different studies. This chart is based on an academic study that examined campaign contributions by all Federal judges before they joined the bench. It places Gorsuch as more conservative than 87% of all other federal judges. However, it also shows him as just slightly to the right of the typical conservative judge.
As with so many other aspects of Washington, the process of confirming Supreme Court justices has certainly become more politicized. This chart shows the number of “no” votes on each SCOTUS nomination. The increase in the number of “no” votes since 1970 is clearly evident. This is also shown by the red line, which depicts the trend in “no” votes.
As we consider Gorsuch’s prospects, it’s also worth noting that since 1900, only four SCOTUS nominees have been rejected – although three of those have been since 1969.
Indeed, since 1969, only six nominations have been withdrawn, rejected or not acted upon, compared to 17 who have been confirmed. The first two, Haynsworth and Carswell, were Nixon nominees who were widely regarded as unqualified. Robert Bork was rejected in part because of his highly conservative views but also because of his role in Nixon’s Saturday night massacre. Douglas Ginsburg withdrew after it was revealed that he had smoked marijuana with a student. Harriet Miers was widely viewed as unqualified. And we all know the story of Merrick Garland.
So at least in modern history, with the possible exception of Bork, no nominee as qualified as Judge Gorsuch has been rejected.