To Confirm or Not to Confirm: That is the Question?
Author: Rebecca Halling-Jones
Founders Fellowship 2018
Jefferson County North High School
On June 27, 2018, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy notified President Donald J. Trump of his intention to resign from the court, effective July 31st. Under our constitutional system of checks and balances, the president was given the opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice, who will then need to be confirmed by a vote in the U.S. Senate.
This lesson examines the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices. Students will review biographies of current justices and the appointment procedure, and then develop an informed opinion as to whether this procedure is a fair system.
- Students will examine the education and employment history of the current Supreme Court justices.
- Students will understand how Supreme Court nominees are appointed and questioned before confirmation.
- Students will analyze the value of the confirmation process in terms of its consistency with constitutional principles.
- Handout A: Supreme Court Biographies
- Handout B: Article II, Section II of the US Constitution
- Handout C: Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings for a Supreme Court Nominee: Overview
- Handout D: Segment of: Questioning Supreme Court Nominees About Their Views on Legal or Constitutional Issues: A Recurring Issue
Warm-up Activity: 5-10 min
Directions: Have students read Handout A and answer the following question individually or in small groups.
- How are many of the justices similar? For example, look at universities attended, clerkships, and positions held immediately before becoming justices. Compile a chart showing the similarities.
Activity: 20-30 minutes
Directions: Have students answer the following questions from Handout B, Handout C, and Handout D. Encourage students to follow the links in Handout C for additional information.
- Handout B
- Who has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices?
- According to the Constitution, whose advice and consent must be sought in nominating justices?
- Handout C
- What typically happens during the prehearing stage?
- Two groups of people evaluate the nominee during this stage. Who are they? What are they looking for?
- According to the article, what is the average number of days a nominee waits before hearings are conducted?
- Why do you believe more recent nominees have received more opposition?
- Handout D
- According to the reading, what is/are the purpose(s) of the questioning by the Judiciary Committee?
- Questions about which topics are viewed as more controversial during Senate hearings?
- Why are nominees generally not asked how they would rule on a case?
- How might a nominee choosing to refuse to answer questions hurt his/her chances to be confirmed? Why might it not hurt his/her chances?
Conclusion: 10 minutes
Directions: Discuss in small groups or as a class the following question.
- To what extent is the process of Supreme Court nominations and confirmation consistent with constitutional principles?
Extension: 20 minutes
Directions: In small groups or individually, read the segments of Handout D (use the link) relating to the hearings of Ginsburg, Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayor. Compare and contrast how the justices answered questions and what questions they were asked. Research unsuccessful nominations to the Supreme Court and discuss why they were not confirmed.