President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Monday to replace outgoing justice Anthony Kennedy. Kavanaugh was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by George W. Bush and served for 12 years on the appeals court. If confirmed, he could be among the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices.

How Kavanaugh would align with the court

Kavanaugh is likely to be far more conservative than Kennedy, who was known as a swing vote on the court.

Elena Kagan
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sonia Sotomayor

These ideological estimates of the current justices and Kavanaugh are based on the Judicial Common Space system developed by political science researchers Lee Epstein, Andrew D. Martin, Jeffrey A. Segal and Chad Westerland. The scores take into account the voting patterns of Supreme Court justices and a combination of factors for judges of lower courts, including clerkships and the political affiliation of the nominating president.

Based on these scores, Kavanaugh would be on par with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas at the conservative end of the court. That’s assuming he’s confirmed by the Senate, which can be a long process.

To become a Supreme Court justice, the president’s nominee must run a gantlet of committee scrutiny, background checks, testimony and Senate debate.

President

NOMINATION

The president chooses a candidate who is well-qualified as well as someone who generally serves his political interests.

Senate Judiciary

Committee

COMMITTEE BREAKDOWN

R

11

D

10

VETTING

The committee checks the nominee’s credentials and background, including finances and past legal decisions.

FIRST HEARING

The committee questions the nominee’s qualifications. The nominee is given a chance to respond.

COMMITTEE VOTE

Even if a majority of the committee opposes the nominee, tradition calls for the panel to send the nomination to the full Senate recommending that it be rejected.

 

Full Senate

49*

51

*Includes two independents who

caucus with the Democrats.

DEBATE ON SENATE FLOOR

Led by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, the Senate debates the nomination.

Filibuster

Republicans voted last year to end the 60-vote threshold to force a vote on Supreme Court nominees.

 

FINAL VOTE

Simple 51-vote

majority required.

NOMINATION

FAILS

NOMINATION

CONFIRMED

President

NOMINATION

The president chooses a candidate who is well-qualified as well as someone who generally serves his political interests.

Senate Judiciary Committee

COMMITTEE BREAKDOWN

VETTING

The committee checks the nominee’s credentials and background, including finances and past legal decisions.

R

11

D

10

FIRST HEARING

The committee questions the nominee’s qualifications. The nominee is given a chance to respond.

BACK TO THE START

A nominee may withdraw from consideration at any time, as Harriet Miers did in 2005.

COMMITTEE VOTE

Even if a majority of the committee opposes the nominee, tradition calls for the panel to send the nomination to the full Senate with the recommendation that it be rejected.

 

Full Senate

DEBATE ON SENATE FLOOR

Led by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, the Senate debates the nomination.

49*

51

Filibuster

*Includes two independents who

caucus with the Democrats.

Republicans voted last year to end the 60-vote threshold to force a vote on Supreme Court nominees.

 

FINAL VOTE

Simple 51-vote

majority required.

NOMINATION

CONFIRMED

NOMINATION

FAILS

Democrats lowered the number of senators needed to force a vote on lower-court judges from 60 to 51 in 2013.

Last year, Senate Republicans followed suit and eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations, meaning that Trump’s pick will only need to clear a 50-vote threshold to be confirmed, assuming Vice President Pence casts the tie-breaking vote.

That said, Republicans currently hold 51 seats, so they can’t afford to lose many from their own conference, either. Further complicating matters, Sen. John McCain (R) has been absent from the chamber following a diagnosis of brain cancer.

[Republicans plan to confirm Supreme Court pick before November elections]

The eight remaining justices

Kennedy’s departure in July also means that there will be no more justices on the court picked by President Ronald Reagan. Of the remaining eight, one was nominated by President George H.W. Bush and one by Trump. Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W. Bush have two each.

The remaining justices were appointed when they were between 43 and 60 years old, and they all attended Ivy League law schools (Kavanaugh is 53 and attended Yale Law). Half were nominated by a Democrat, and half by a Republican.

Nominated by a Democrat

Elena

Kagan

58 years old

Harvard Law

Sonia

Sotomayor

64 years old

Yale Law

Stephen G.

Breyer

79 years old

Harvard Law

Ruth Bader

Ginsburg

85 years old

Columbia Law

Nominated by a Republican

Anthony M.

Kennedy’s

vacant seat

Clarence

Thomas

70 years old

Yale Law

Samuel A.

Alito Jr.

68 years old

Yale Law

Chief Justice

John G. Roberts Jr.

63 years old

Harvard Law

Neil M.

Gorsuch

50 years old

Harvard Law

Nominated by a Democrat

Elena

Kagan

58 years old

Harvard Law

Sonia

Sotomayor

64 years old

Yale Law

Stephen G.

Breyer

79 years old

Harvard Law

Ruth Bader

Ginsburg

85 years old

Columbia Law

Nominated by a Republican

Anthony M.

Kennedy’s

vacant seat

Clarence

Thomas

70 years old

Yale Law

Samuel A.

Alito Jr.

68 years old

Yale Law

Chief Justice

John G. Roberts Jr.

63 years old

Harvard Law

Neil M.

Gorsuch

50 years old

Harvard Law

Nominated by a Democrat

Nominated by a Republican

Elena

Kagan

58 years old

Harvard Law

Sonia

Sotomayor

64 years old

Yale Law

Stephen G.

Breyer

79 years old

Harvard Law

Ruth Bader

Ginsburg

85 years old

Columbia Law

Anthony M.

Kennedy’s

vacant seat

Clarence

Thomas

70 years old

Yale Law

Samuel A.

Alito Jr.

68 years old

Yale Law

Chief Justice

John G. Roberts Jr.

63 years old

Harvard Law

Neil M.

Gorsuch

50 years old

Harvard Law

Kennedy was the longest-serving sitting justice before he announced his retirement on June 27. He was nominated to the Supreme Court and confirmed by the Senate unanimously in 1988.

Nominated by:

Republican

Democrat

’90

’00

’10

2018

Kennedy, 81

Thomas, 70

Ginsburg, 85

Breyer, 79

Roberts, 63

Alito Jr., 68

Sotomayor, 64

Kagan, 58

Gorsuch, 50

Nominated

by:

REAGAN

OBAMA

TRUMP

BUSH

CLINTON

BUSH

1988

’90

’00

’10

2018

Anthony M.

Kennedy, 81

Clarence Thomas, 70

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85

Stephen G. Breyer, 79

John G. Roberts Jr., 63

Samuel A. Alito Jr., 68

Sonia Sotomayor, 64

Elena Kagan, 58

Neil M. Gorsuch, 50

Confirmations have grown much more political since Kennedy’s.

Citing the upcoming presidential election, Senate Republicans refused to schedule hearings for Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia in 2016. His nomination, which automatically ended when the 115th Congress was sworn in on Jan. 3, 2017, lasted a record 293 days.

Graphics by Kevin Uhrmacher, Darla Cameron and Joe Fox.

About this story

Ideological scores from Lee Epstein of Washington University. Information from Supreme Court biographies, Supreme Court Historical Society, U.S. Senate and Congressional Research Service.

Originally published June 29, 2018.

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