Senate Confirmation Hearings

Some of the most highly publicized Senate hearings are those held for the purpose of considering presidential nominations. These nominations may include cabinet positions and nominations for other executive branch political offices, federal judges and U.S. diplomatic posts.

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Witnesses at nomination and confirmation hearings typically include the individual nominated as well as other individuals who may be in a position to provide relevant information regarding the credentials, experience, character, qualification and overall fitness for service of the individual nominated.

Confirmation hearings are conducted by committees of the Senate that come within the purview of their respective jurisdictions. For instance, Senate Armed Services Committee hearings would consider the nominations of individuals such as the Secretary of Defense while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would hold hearings to consider the nomination of individuals such as the Secretary of Energy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is responsible for conducting hearings for the purpose of reviewing nominations of federal district and appellate court judges, Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgeand Supreme Court justices. Usually there is a large number of confirmation hearings held during the weeks and months immediately after a new president is inaugurated. Confirmation hearings may also be scheduled anytime a presidential nomination occurs. Senate confirmation hearings often result in a report to the full Senate to prepare for a floor vote.

While confirmation hearings may be conducted in a fairly routine manner that is not always the case. One of the highest-profile and most significant congressional hearings took place following the nomination of Judge Robert Bork by President Reagan to the United States Supreme Court in 1987. A huge battle between liberals and conservatives ensued, leading to millions of dollars being sent by both liberal and conservative activist groups. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted twelve full days of hearings, with Judge Bork testifying during an unprecedented five days. Over the course of the hearing, one hundred witnesses appeared before the committee, either in support or opposition of the nomination. Ultimately, the Judiciary Committee voted against confirming Bork, however, it did not end there. Bork announced that he wished to proceed with a Senate floor vote; a vote that concluded 58-42 against the nomination.

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Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 1.58 Senate advice and Consent, Section 1.87 Example of the Influence of Hearings on Committee Action, and Section 7.5 Committee Follow-up Activities and Responsibilities.

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