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PURSUIT OF JUSTICES by David Alistair Yalof

PURSUIT OF JUSTICES

Presidential Politics and the Selection of Supreme Court Nominees

By David Alistair Yalof

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-94545-6
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

A detailed study of the growing political importance to presidents of selecting suitable nominees to the Supreme Court. Since the controversial confirmation hearings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, the appointment of new Supreme Court justices has risen significantly in the public’s political consciousness. Yalof (Political Science/Univ. of Connecticut) brings some perspective to this process by focusing upon the nomination of potential justices rather than their subsequent confirmation hearings. Robert Bork’s case to the contrary, it is this initial screening process that determines the composition of the court, because the vast majority of nominees are confirmed: 89 percent in this century. Beginning with President Truman, Yalof discusses the selection practices of each subsequent administration. As President Roosevelt’s “court packing” scheme vividly illustrated, the importance of the appointment process has always been recognized. However, in recent years, a potential candidate’s suitability has been increasingly measured by his or her ideological positions as much as other considerations, such as past experience, geography, or, for that matter, proven loyalty to the president. For instance, Yalof traces the important role played by officials in the Justice Department in screening potential justices for the Reagan administration in a quest to find ideologically like-minded candidates. Of course, these efforts are not always totally successful; Justice Sandra Day O—Connor’s votes in abortion rights cases are often cited to illustrate this proposition. Nonetheless, Yalof does a convincing job of explaining why presidential administrations (as well as special interest groups) have come to view the Supreme Court as a means of solidifying and extending their political agendas. While its rigid structure conveys the impression that this volume represents the second coming of a doctoral dissertation, it provides a thoughtful introduction to the evolving considerations that have shaped the postwar Supreme Court. (6 line drawings)